“A scientifically based ranking of risks moves us away from a system that chases highly visible media events—outbreaks and recalls—and makes sure we don’t lose sight of what’s harder to see—what happens every day in restaurants.”—Michael Batz, MS, Executive Director of the Food Safety Research Consortium
Dates of Project: August 2002–September 2014
Field of Work: Food safety
Problem Synopsis: Every year, one in six Americans gets sick from eating contaminated food, and an estimated 3,000 people die. Federal, state, and local government agencies are in charge of keeping the nation’s food supply safe, but, too often, contaminated foods slip through because the systems to protect consumers are fragmented and inefficient, with many agencies regulating specific foods and operating under different rules.
Fragmented federal leadership complicates efforts to strengthen the food safety system. No single agency or individual in the federal government is held accountable for coordinating comprehensive preventive strategies to reduce foodborne illnesses.
Synopsis of the Work: Eleven grants to academic institutions and Washington-based nonprofits aimed to strengthen the nation’s food safety system. Although the projects addressed different areas, they all contributed to a shift from a largely reactive approach of responding to dramatic foodborne illness crises to one focused on risk-based prevention and resource allocation throughout the food system—from farm to fork.
Among the areas of focus: identifying the pathogens that had the greatest impact on public health, strengthening the food safety information infrastructure, and helping the FDA implement the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act.
Key Results: The grantee organizations reported the following results:
- Researchers from the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida updated a risk-ranking methodology to identify the riskiest pathogen-food combinations, and published the results in Ranking the Risks: The 10 Pathogen-Food Combinations with the Greatest Burden on Public Health
- Researchers from George Washington University (GWU) disseminated three major reports on food safety:
- Harnessing Knowledge to Ensure Food Safety: Opportunities to Improve the Nation’s Food Safety Information Infrastructure
- Stronger Partnerships for Safer Food: An Agenda for Strengthening State and Local Roles in the Nation's Food Safety System
- Keeping America’s Food Safe: A Blueprint for Fixing the Food Safety System at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- The Collaborative Food Safety Forum, whose members include businesses, consumer groups, academics, and public health professionals concerned about food safety, met five times to discuss issues relevant to implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act.
These grants provided “safe forums where strange bedfellows—the food industry, consumer groups, and researchers—could get together in a dialogue about food safety research issues and the policy implications of the research.”—Senior Program Officer Pamela Russo, MD, MPH
Each year, 1 in 6 Americans gets sick from eating contaminated food and 3,000 people die.