The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has assembled a new network of epidemiologists and other public health experts in hopes of responding more quickly and effectively to outbreaks of foodborne illness.

Dubbed the Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) Network, the team will be directed by Dr. Kathleen F. Gensheimer, the former Maine state epidemiologist.  As the CORE director, she will be responsible for FDA response to outbreaks, the agency announced Wednesday.

The CORE network is a multi-disciplinary team of epidemiologists, veterinarians, microbiologists and other specialists who will work full time on outbreak prevention and response, the agency said.

“The CORE Network builds on the best practices FDA has already implemented in its outbreak response efforts,” said Mike Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner of foods.  “And, in keeping with the reforms of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, CORE activities will learn from outbreaks to develop preventive systems in an effort to reduce them.

Critics have complained that federal responsibility for food safety is spread across too many agencies, including the FDA, Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control.   The CORE team will be directed to work closely with those agencies as well as state public health and agriculture departments.

“This has been in development,” FDA spokesman Douglas Karas told Food Safety News. “Basically, the goal is to build upon the best of what we currently do across FDA in incident response.”

The fulltime staff will be better equipped to respond to outbreaks, Karas said. “And we can concentrate more on lessons learned, to try and prevent incidents in the future.”

The network is not intended to replace existing programs at CDC, but rather to “help us react faster,” he said.

Gensheimer, the new director, said the network will improve communication among federal, state and local agencies.  “Given my background at the state level, this is a major priority for me,” she said.