On Tuesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced plans to supply guidance and “limited financial support” to 10 state and local health departments to complete one of its “FREE-B” outbreak preparation scenarios.

Launched in the summer of 2011, the FREE-B program is a collection of five workshops developed by the FDA to better prepare government and public health responses to foodborne illness outbreaks and similar emergencies. The acronym stands for “Food Related Emergency Exercise Bundle.”

Along with providing planning assistance for the agencies tackling the workshops, the FDA will grant each one up to $5,000 for any planning costs. In return, the FDA gets to test-run its workshops, observing how various agencies respond and using that information to improve future iterations of the program.

The agencies testing out the workshops are:

-Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

-Connecticut Department of Public Health

-Georgia Department of Agriculture

-Illinois Department of Public Health

-Iowa Department of Public Health

-Michigan Department of Community Health

-Minnesota Department of Agriculture

-New York State Department of Health

-Virginia Department of Health

-Uncas Health District in Connecticut

Each agency has until June 2012 to complete one of the workshops, which address a range of scenarios from investigating a cluster of illnesses linked to a restaurant to organizing the agriculture and law enforcement responses to intentional cattle poisoning.

The agencies receiving the assistance awards were selected after the FDA’s Food Defense Oversight Team invited state, local, tribal and territorial agencies to submit proposals for completing one of the workshops. The FREE-B program was designed for many types of agencies to test out plans and protocols regardless of the agency’s size.

For more information on the FREE-B program, Gretchen Goetz reported on it for Food Safety News last July. Those interested in the program can download the workshop materials for free at the FDA’s website.