Integrated Foodborne Outbreak Response and Management (InFORM) Conference
Remarks at Integrated Foodborne Outbreak Response and Management (InFORM) Conference
Remarks as prepared for delivery by Alfred V. Almanza, Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, InFORM Conference, Phoenix, Arizona, November 18, 2015
Good morning. It’s great to be here in Phoenix.
I’m Al Almanza, the Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety at USDA.
I lead the Food Safety and Inspection Service, which regulates the nation’s commercial supply of meat, poultry, and processed egg products.
Like our partners at the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration, the goal of FSIS is to prevent foodborne illness outbreaks by working to stop adulterated food from entering commerce in the first place.
In order to do this, we must ensure that FSIS is using the most up-to-date science and technology to enhance foodborne disease surveillance, detection, response, and prevention.
Over the past few years, we’ve worked with CDC and FDA to improve coordination of Federal food safety analytic efforts and to address cross-cutting priorities for food safety data collection, analysis and use.
We’ve done this through our Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration, which is a group that brings together senior leaders and technical experts on food safety attribution from CDC, FDA, and FSIS, to improve coordination of Federal food safety analytic efforts and address cross-cutting priorities for food safety data collection, analysis and use.
As FSIS focuses on modernization, we need to think about new ways for government and industry to work together to stop multistate foodborne disease outbreaks and make food safer.
At this year’s inFORM Conference, FSIS has representatives presenting who work on science initiatives, communications, and investigations.
They will talk to you in greater detail about some of our specific initiatives, but I wanted to start off by talking about our modernization efforts and then discuss opportunities for collaboration.
Modernization and Prevention
At FSIS, we are continuing in our efforts to modernize our approach to food safety.
Our efforts in inspection have moved from a sight, touch and smell approach to a more science-based, modern inspection system.
One example of this modernization in our inspection techniques was the New Poultry Inspection System final rule that came out last year.
With NPIS, we have inspectors on line and off line, and plants are required to test for Salmonella and other pathogens before the chiller and after the chiller to ensure that the level of the pathogen is being controlled by the establishment’s process.
Through NPIS, inspectors are able to focus on their key role—which is verifying that the establishment produces safe product.
We’re going to continue to modernize our inspection methods, looking closely at swine slaughter. There are currently 5 swine slaughter establishments participating in the HACCP-based inspection models project (HIMP).
The purpose of the FSIS HIMP pilot program is to determine whether the HIMP inspection system performs as well as the traditional inspection system in terms of food safety.
Our data has found that it does. We are now looking to move forward with swine modernization, as we also examine ways to modernize beef slaughter.
These approaches will be informed by what we’ve learned through modernization of other areas. They will also be based on sound science and data.
InFORM brings together partners across government and industry. You serve as leaders of organizations and agencies that share the same commitment to food safety as FSIS does.
We live in a rapidly changing and growing world, so increased communication with our public and private partners, especially during recalls and outbreaks just makes us more effective.
CDC, FDA, and FSIS have unique roles and jurisdictions, but they share a common goal of improving public health. They’ve strengthened this commitment through the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration, or IFSAC.
Since 2011, IFSAC has proven that our Agencies can and do work together to make meaningful progress toward achieving that goal.
This year, one of IFSAC’s major successes was developing harmonized attribution estimates for Salmonella, E. coli O157, Listeria monocytogenes, and Campylobacter for major food categories and hosting a public meeting, with over 200 people in attendance in-person and online, to share those findings.
Improved estimates of foodborne illness source attribution derived from outbreak data can inform efforts to prioritize food safety initiatives, interventions, and policies for reducing foodborne illnesses.
In addition, one of our main priorities is to work more closely with the states before, during, and after outbreaks.
In fact, at the beginning of this month, we joined CDC and FDA on the Vital Signs call and discussed ways that FSIS can complement the work CDC and the states are doing together.
I’d especially like to thank epidemiologists, whose trace back work is extremely important to all of us working together during outbreaks.
We also meet with the Association of Food and Drug Officials regularly and include their members in some of our meetings.
In fact, it was out of one of these meetings that the idea for the trace back data collection from shopper cards was born.
When we have experts from all different food safety backgrounds and roles sitting at the table, innovation comes closer to reality.
We are also celebrating some anniversaries with our food safety partners this year.
This year, we celebrate the 10 year anniversary of OutbreakNet annual meetings, with the first meeting in Seattle in 2005, which was called the 1st National Foodborne Epidemiologists Meeting.
Many of you are also familiar with FoodNet—the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network— which conducts surveillance for the most pathogen infections that are diagnosed by laboratory testing of samples from patients.
We have been an active and founding member and contributor in FoodNet since its launch in 1996, so we’re celebrating nearly 20 years of the network.
As I mentioned earlier, we’ve worked together with FDA and CDC on other areas like the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System, PulseNet, Whole Genome Sequencing, and Food Defense, just to name a few.
By combining our information, investigators at each agency can determine what is making people ill faster and find both immediate and long-term solutions to these problems.
PulseNet has been extremely successful. Each year, the system identifies about 1,500 clusters of foodborne disease, about 250 clusters that span multiple states and about 10-15 multistate outbreaks of foodborne disease that are widely dispersed.
This year, we celebrate 20 years since PulseNet’s creation.
By detecting these outbreaks, we can remove contaminated food from commerce before more people become ill.
PulseNet’s use of PFGE and DNA-fingerprinting has been very effective, but the development of next generation sequencing techniques provides even more opportunity for innovating with our partners.
That’s why we are moving forward with our partner agencies to look at how we can integrate Whole Genome Sequencing into our work.
Whole Genome Sequencing
At FSIS, we understand the importance of incorporating the latest technologies into our work so that we can discover recurring pathogens and most effectively eliminate them at the source.
Whole Genome Sequencing technology promises to provide superior discrimination between closely related bacterial isolates.
The data collected from Whole Genome Sequencing can help explore and identify environmental harborage. It will help us find recurrences of pathogens in FSIS-regulated establishments so that we can stop them before illnesses occur.
This information can further support our existing HACCP verifications and the decisions we make relating to enforcement actions.
In order to foster a shared understanding among CDC, FDA, and NIH, FSIS has joined these partner agencies in the newly formed interagency collaboration, “Gen-FS.”
This partnership will help the public health agencies to direct and harmonize the interagency Whole Genome Sequencing efforts.
It takes cooperation from government, scientists, educators, consumers, industry and others to protect public health most effectively.
This cooperation is necessary when dealing with the complex issues of food safety. Individuals and organizations all have valuable input and a different way of looking at things.
On that note, I think there is great opportunity to further collaborate with outside organizations—especially in the area of recalls, illness investigations, inspections, and assessing whether retailers are practicing the best practices contained in the FSIS guidance.
Thank you for all of your great efforts to improve and INFORM outbreak investigations and food safety modernization efforts.
I know that if we continue working together and embracing new technologies, we will succeed in protecting public health and preventing foodborne illness.