FDA's CORE Network Has Early Success in Combating Foodborne Illness

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It’s imperative that foodborne illnesses be squelched before they can lead to widespread outbreaks.  The responsibility of keeping citizens safe is the purview of the Food and Drug Administration, and it’s something the organization takes seriously.  In a new report, the FDA touts the successes of their CORE Network (Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation), an initiative launched one year ago in August 2011.

Prior to CORE’s inception, the FDA would wait for an outbreak to occur before they jumped into action.  When an illness was identified, the organization would pull from members of the various branches of their own ranks to create a team that could craft a suitable response to the threat.  Realizing the deficiencies of such a system, the Commissioner of the FDA decided that it would be best to dedicate a team whose entire job would be to respond to outbreaks.

Numerous specialists were thus brought in to make up the team, which wound up being comprised of epidemiologists, health specialists, veterinarians, and more.  CORE thus consists of multiple teams that all coordinate their efforts so as to preserve public safety in the face of a foodborne illness.  The Signals and Surveillance team analyzes data in the hopes of identifying when an outbreak is imminent.  The Response team gears their work toward combating the outbreak and preventing the spread of foodborne illness. The Post-response team crafts strategies to help prevent similar outbreaks in the future.  There is also a communications team tasked with liaising with the public.

In their first year, CORE was forced to address three major outbreaks that threatened public health.  First up was the first ever occurrence of a Listeria monocytogenes outbreak in whole cantaloupes.  Reports of illness surfaced last August, right around the time CORE was formed.  30 people died because of the outbreak, which was tied to produce grown in Colorado.  The CORE team determined the cause of the widespread sickness (unsafe food handling and equipment cleaning) and enacted procedures meant to preserve safety.

Frozen scrape tuna was also recently found to have led to 400 people becoming ill throughout the country.  Working with the Emergency Operations Center of the FDA, CORE responded to the onslaught of illnesses and ascertained that the Salmonella outbreak owed its genesis to an Indian processing center.  A third major outbreak was tied to a variety of Diamond Pet Foods, which were later recalled because they posed a salmonella infection threat.  CORE also handled outbreaks associated with oysters, Turkish pine nuts, sprouts, and more.

The FDA is praising the efforts of their CORE team, saying that consumer health can be properly preserved with this new system.  The chief medical officer of the team hopes for further improvements to their work as time goes on.