The position isn’t being advertised as “outbreak czar,” but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is looking for a chief medical officer who will lead a team permanently assigned to handle foodborne illness outbreaks.
The FDA posted its recruitment notice online this week. The new hire will report directly to Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods.
In an interview with the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy’s CIDRAP News, Taylor said the new position has been under consideration for some time, but fits with the direction the FDA is heading since the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act.
“It’s connected in the sense that the new law and a lot of things going on at FDA are all about strengthening our ability to do science-based prevention when it comes to foodborne illness,” he told CIDRAP.
In response to outbreaks, the agency now temporarily assembles people from various FDA offices. Under the new system, a full-time, multidisciplinary team of about 40 people will work within the agency and in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state and local public health authorities and the food industry, Taylor said.
The outbreak director’s primary responsibility will be to head that team and be the “point person” on the scientific judgments behind whether to order a recall–one of FDA’s expanded powers under the new law–although the ultimate decision to recall potentially contaminated food will rest with the FDA commissioner.
In addition to handling outbreaks of foodborne disease, the team will work with its CDC and state partners on surveillance and detection, and in the aftermath of outbreaks review to see how prevention efforts can be improved.
Jeff Farrar, the FDA’s associate commissioner for food protection, told CIDRAP it is often difficult to find “the smoking gun” in an outbreak, so the chief medical officer/outbreak director will help decide whether there’s a need for the outbreak team to more closely scrutinize a processing facility or farm to determine how food became contaminated.
The position requires a medical degree (doctor of medicine or doctor of osteopathy) and five years of residency training or equivalent experience and training. The salary range is $123,758 to $155,500 a year.