Office of Public Health Science (OPHS)
The Office of Public Health Science (OPHS) within the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) provides the scientific leadership necessary for the support of science-based food safety programs and policies implemented to reduce foodborne illnesses and deaths. OPHS develops (collects, analyzes, and reports) scientific information related to meat, poultry, and egg products, from their production to consumption and uses that information to assess potential human health risks throughout the farm-to-table continuum.
OPHS uses a scientifically-based risk assessment approach to focus on the potential human health outcomes of meat, poultry, and egg product consumption. This approach emphasizes the need to address the entire food animal production process. OPHS scientific experts:
- monitor and analyze production processes,
- identify and evaluate potential foodborne hazards,
- determine estimates of risk to human health,
- respond to recognized, emerging, or potential threats to the food supply,
- lead foodborne disease outbreak investigations,
- provide emergency preparedness and response support for the Agency and the Department through the Health Hazard Evaluation Boards (HHEB), the Food Emergency Response Network (FERN), and other emergency and coordination groups (e.g. Office of Data Integration and Food Protection (ODIFP)), and
- analyze laboratory data collected from monitoring programs, baselines, outbreaks, and emerging risks for the purpose of developing the underlying scientific basis for improving food safety programs and policies.
Resource and Program Management Staff
The Resource and Program Management Staff Provides technical expertise, oversight, and support for all administrative, financial management (appropriated and user-fee funded), internal and management control, strategic planning, and human capital functions. Assesses and provides support for the highly-specialized program resource and administrative requirements needed to sustain frontline laboratory functions, scientific programs, and public health activities conducted by the program. Responsible for formulating OPHS policies for these functions in accordance with Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), FSIS Strategic Plan, Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), Federal Travel Regulation (FTR), Federal appropriations regulations, USDA regulations, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requirements and all other related laws.
The Science Staff (SciS) provides expertise and leadership in promoting food safety and advancing the latest scientific approaches to understand and prevent foodborne illness caused by microbiological, chemical, and physical contamination. SciS explores the application of new technologies to prevent and control foodborne hazards in meat, poultry and egg products. The experts in SciS focus on public health and safety issues related to meat, poultry, and egg products from pre-harvest through processing and consumption. They coordinate and provide scientific support to identify different hazards, and propose mitigations to prevent and contain harm to public health. They provide scientific support for risk assessment, management, communications, and emergency controls of food hazards as the foods are processed, prepared, enter the distribution chain, and consumed.
The SciS is responsible for the administration of the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF) activities. NACMCF is the only scientific advisory committee within FSIS that provides independent and unbiased scientific advice to FSIS and other Federal partners on food safety issues. This advisory committee is governed by the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).
Applied Epidemiology Staff
The Applied Epidemiology Staff (AES) utilizes the latest epidemiologic, medical, veterinary, and public health approaches to identify, investigate, understand, respond to, and prevent human foodborne related illnesses and hazards. AES:
- applies epidemiological and hazard analysis principles (risk assessment, management and communication) in the study of animal-related human health (zoonotic) risks from the farm through processing;
- evaluates the health effects of exposure to potential hazards as a result of consuming contaminated/adulterated meat, poultry, and egg products;
- guides, supports, and enhances the regulatory approach and outreach processes to support the farm-to-table continuum in order to adequately safeguard public health and safety;
- develops science-based recommendations to prevent, reduce, control, and test for hazards in a HACCP environment; and
- monitors and evaluates the potential impact of zoonotic diseases in food-producing animals in HACCP systems.
Veterinary experts provide the scientific basis for outreach to food-animal commodity groups and state, local and national organizations and governmental agencies concerned with animal production, slaughter and other food safety intervention practices.
Risk Assessment and Analytics Staff
The Risk Assessment and Analytics Staff (RAAS) develops and applies state-of-art scientific methods to assess the risks of biological and chemical hazards in meat, poultry and egg products. Those risk assessments estimate the potential effects of policy options, inform regulatory decisions in support of the Agency's food safety mission, and assess the public health impacts of FSIS actions. Analytic activities include developing methods and analyzing the scientific information needed to conduct risk assessments. The risk assessments and analytic products support the Agency’s risk management and risk communication functions. RAAS’s analyses guide, support and enhance the Agency's goals related to regulatory initiatives, internal policy-making, data collection, research priorities, and the USDA food safety goals. As an integral part of the Agency’s scientific structure, the Staff furthers the Agency’s public health mission of ensuring the safety and wholesomeness of meat, poultry, and egg products.
FSIS Field Service Laboratories
The three FSIS Field Service Laboratories and the laboratory quality assurance staff coordinate and conduct analyses in support of the Agency's farm-to-table strategies that affect the health and safety of consumers worldwide. In FY2013, FSIS performed 1.1 million analyses of meat, poultry and egg product samples to detect and identify potential hazards to public health.
- Eastern Laboratory, Athens, Georgia - services: chemistry, microbiology, and veterinary pathology
- Midwestern Laboratory, St. Louis, Missouri - services: chemistry and microbiology.
- Western Laboratory, Alameda, California - services: chemistry and microbiology.
Laboratory Quality Assurance Staff
The Laboratory Quality Assurance Staff (LQAS) oversees the FSIS laboratory wide quality management system ensuring that the system is in compliance with all ISO/IEC Standard 17025, AOAC International Guidelines for Laboratories Performing Microbiological and Chemical Analyses of Foods and Pharmaceuticals, and Agency requirements. LQAS administers the Microbiology Issues Steering Group and the Chemistry Issues Steering Group to commission method validation workgroups, ensure appropriate method selection and ensure laboratory uniformity. LQAS personnel oversee study protocol development and/or review validation data required for implementation of new methods and extension of existing laboratory methods. LQAS personnel serve as liaisons providing scientific technical expertise to federal, state and local government and private entities. LQAS personnel provide assessment of quality assurance programs, method equivalence reviews and auditing services for the State Meat and Poultry Inspection (MPI) program and the Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS) program. LQAS administers the FSIS Accredited Laboratory Program (ALP), Pasteurized Egg Product Recognized Laboratory Program and the Trichinella Approved Laboratory Program by conducting laboratory reviews and overseeing proficiency testing activities for participating laboratories.
Food Emergency Response Network
The Food Emergency Response Network (FERN) integrates the nation's food-testing laboratories at the local, state, Federal, tribal, and territorial levels into a network that is able to respond to emergencies involving biological, chemical, or radiological contamination of food. The FERN structure is designed to facilitate Federal and state inter-agency participation and cooperation in the formation, development, and operation of the network. The four mission goals of FERN are Prevention, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery. FERN’s efforts provide an early means of detecting threat agents through targeted surveillance of the United States’ food supply. It provides a number of support programs that prepares the nation's laboratories to be able to respond to food-related emergencies. These include method development, training, proficiency testing, exercises, surveillance, as well as administrative support activities. FERN offers significant laboratory capacity that strengthens the nation's response toward complex food safety emergencies, intentional or unintentional.
The FERN staff coordinates method development and validation studies to enhance laboratory surge capacity by providing expert support in the assessment, management, and response to food defense emergencies. FERN coordinates chemical, biological, and radiochemistry analyses for threat agents on behalf of the network. The FERN laboratories enhance the ability to restore the public’s confidence in the food supply following activation of the network. The staff coordinates FERN activities with the other national laboratory networks through the Integrated Consortium of Laboratory Networks (ICLN) whose members include, in addition to the FERN, the CDC Laboratory Response Network (LRN), APHIS National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN), EPA Environmental Response Laboratory Network (ERLN), APHIS National Plant Diagnostic Network (NPDN), DoD Laboratory Network (DLN), and the FDA Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network (Vet-LIRN).