Food Safety: More Training, Staff, Funding Needed

Jan 6, 2012, 5:57 PM, Posted by

In 2002, the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) conducted its first national food safety epidemiology capacity assessment. That assessment became the basis for development of minimum performance standards to help guide state and local foodborne disease control programs. In 2010, CSTE sent states a follow-up questionnaire and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently published the results of the follow-up report. The report found that to effectively address foodborne illnesses, states need:

  • More epidemiologists working on food safety;
  • Additional training opportunities for existing staff;
  • Greater investment in information technologies to improve detection and response capacity; and
  • Continued progress in building the relationship between state and local health departments and the collaborating federal agencies responsible for the control and prevention of foodborne disease.

Other barriers to investigating foodborne outbreaks include delayed notification about the outbreak, lower prioritization of investigations and insufficient funds to pay for overtime work on the investigations.

NewPublicHealth caught up with Matthew Boulton, MD, MPH, the co-author of the MMWR report, who is an associate professor of epidemiology and internal medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the University of Michigan School of Medicine, about the report.

NewPublicHealth: What did you find beyond the general results when you looked at individual measures in the report?

Matthew Boulton: States are working hard to improve their capacity to investigate foodborne outbreaks. They generally did pretty well with e. coli and salmonella, but were a little spottier when you get into other pathogens, such as norovirus and campylobacter. What would be encouraging would be uniformity with all these pathogens, but we’re just not there yet.

NPH: Why the lack of uniformity for all pathogens?

Matthew Boulton: I’d have to say it’s the lack of availability of sufficiently trained staff.

NPH: What’s behind the gaps in IT infrastructure?

Matthew Boulton: I think many states would agree that there has not been strong enough leadership in public health IT infrastructure development at the national level combined with a lack of expertise and sometimes a lack of funding as well, in this area in state and local health departments.

NPH: And what improvements did you see when you reviewed the individual measures in the report?

Matthew Boulton: We saw an increase in timely reporting of foodborne outbreaks.

NPH: What’s next in your research in the area of food safety?

Matthew Boulton: I will be coming out with a peer review publication on these findings that will present an analysis of more of the data including the legal basis for food safety in the states.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.