Challenges in Preventing Foodborne Illness Outbreaks

NEHA News Release


Release Date: 
May 1, 2014

DENVER — The National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) has released its assessment of the capacity of local and state agencies to undertake foodborne illness outbreak investigation and response. The report, Assessment of Foodborne Illness Outbreak Response and Investigation Capacity in US Environmental Health Food Safety Regulatory Programs, contains the results of an extensive study of the ability of food safety agencies to respond to foodborne outbreaks. Notable findings of the report include key steps needed to ensure adequate resources are allocated to properly handle an outbreak.

NEHA was asked to conduct this assessment by the Council to Improve Foodborne Outbreak Response (CIFOR) to determine the capacity of local and state agencies to undertake foodborne illness outbreak investigation and response. While preliminary data was gathered through focus groups, the study consisted of a questionnaire sent to almost 900 individuals at local and state food agencies to assess budgetary constraints, staff capacity and training, and agency effectiveness in investigation and response to foodborne outbreaks.

Among the findings published in the report is the effect budget cuts and financial strains on health and agricultural departments have had at both the local and state level, leading to issues such as stagnating salaries and inadequate or underfunded training. The result of these trends is a high turnover rate of employment, staff with less experience and training, and a decreased ability to respond to foodborne outbreaks. Smaller municipalities and local agencies tend to experience these effects at higher rates.

The full report can be found here and recommends a series of policy actions to address these new challenges. The report advocates prioritizing resources for training and education, increasing collaboration and cooperation across agencies to enhance their outreach and effectiveness, and utilizing new technologies and standardized practices to make up for the lack of funding and experienced staff.

Last week, CIFOR has released a second edition of its Guidelines for Foodborne Disease Outbreak Response. The guidelines describe the overall approach to foodborne disease outbreaks, including preparation, detection, investigation, control and follow-up. The guidelines are targeted at local, state and federal agencies that are responsible for preventing and managing foodborne disease, and it describes the roles of all key organizations in foodborne disease outbreaks.

About the National Environmental Health Association

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