Federal officials say they will provide weekly updates on some foodborne outbreaks as soon as investigations begin, therefore keeping a transparency promise. Only multi-state outbreaks are included in the new database.

The investigation arm of the Food and Drug Administration — the Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) team — will be handling the investigation table for the agency, according to a statement from FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas. Outbreaks not under an active FDA investigation and single-state outbreaks will not be included in the table.

Frank Yiannas

“We have already taken steps to release information early, in some cases prior to a specific food being linked to an outbreak, including in our recent communications on investigations into three ongoing E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks. We promised to soon take additional action to release information about outbreaks at the earliest stages of an investigation, and with the release of this new tool, as well as other efforts under our New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative, we’re doing just that,” said Yiannas.

“Although we won’t have all the information in the early phases of a foodborne illness outbreak investigation and often there isn’t specific actionable information for consumers, we believe that sharing what information we have early via this new table is crucial because it gives consumers and stakeholders an awareness of outbreaks being investigated by the FDA.”

In a separate announcement about the new information format, the FDA said the table “will also align with CDC efforts to provide information on the number of illness clusters they are investigating each week.” As of Wednesday evening, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not appear to have any information posted to coincide with the FDA’s efforts. 

There were seven outbreak updates posted on the FDA’s “Investigation Table” as of Wednesday afternoon. 

The new web information tool is in the pilot program phase, set to last six months. The agency is interested in receiving feedback so it can adjust the table as needed, according to the announcement. The announcement did not specify how that feedback should be submitted.

The FDA’s investigation table currently includes the following information:

  • Date Posted on the table — will be determined by when the FDA has determined that the outbreak may involve an FDA-regulated food;
  • Reference Number — FDA assigned number used to identify an outbreak for reference by stakeholders;
  • Pathogen(s) of concern;
  • Product(s) linked to illnesses, if any;
  • Patient count
  • Investigation status
  • Outbreak status
  • Recall initiated
  • Traceback initiated
  • On-Site Inspection initiated
  • Collection and analysis of sampling

The outbreak investigation table is being described as a “stepping stone” to move people away from having access to very little information to having access to information earlier in the investigation process.

“. . . it is important to note that during the early phases of an investigation, there may not be any specific action that consumers can take while information is being gathered and the investigation develops,” said Yiannas.

“For example, in the early stages of an investigation, we may not know what specific commodity or food vehicle is responsible for the illnesses and the time frame in which it was available for purchase. This information is crucial to the development of accurate public health messages to help protect consumers from exposure to potentially contaminated food and enable retailers and consumers to take appropriate actions.”

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