A new guide offering suggestions to the industry on how to respond to foodborne illness outbreaks has been issued by the Council to Improve Foodborne Outbreak Response, or CIFOR, in partnership with food industry representatives, consulting companies, government agencies, and CIFOR Council representatives.
Called “Foodborne Illness Response Guidelines For Owners, Operators and Managers of Food Establishments,” the guidelines are the result of nearly five years of data collection that will help industry members take an active and educated role in responding to an outbreak and subsequent investigation by health officials. The information offers voluntary guidance from experts in the food industry, as well as local, state and federal regulatory and non-regulatory public health agencies.
The guidelines, available now on the CIFOR web site, provide recommendations on how to help outline, clarify, and explain industry’s recommended role in a foodborne illness outbreak investigation. Some of the key points include:
• Traceability of food orders and determining an outbreak’s starting source
• Communication and how to deal with employees, regulatory agencies and customers collecting information relevant to a foodborne illness
• Tools to use, such as employee work history, employee and customer health symptom reporting
• Distributor and supplier information
• Dealing with media responses in event of an outbreak
• Medical employee vaccination history, medical approval to return to work, employee history of contact with others diagnosed in spreading illness through food
“When there is an outbreak of foodborne illness, the government and the food industry are of one mind,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said. “We have to find the cause and stop the outbreak. These guidelines and the continued work of CIFOR demonstrate key partnerships and our daily shared commitment to food safety and the health of consumers in the United States.”
U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, agreed, saying: “Both industry and government have a shared responsibility for the safety of our nation's food supply. By outlining and clarifying specific roles and responsibilities during each outbreak, we develop greater trust and accountability among stakeholders and consumers.”
Dawn Sweeney, the NRA’s president and CEO, also commended the council for creating the guidelines.
“The National Restaurant Association is proud to have played an active role in developing this resource in partnership with state, local and federal public health officials and other industry stakeholders,” she said. “[This is] an important tool for restaurant owners and operators, and reflects our industry’s commitment to protecting the public health.”
According to Frank Ferko, a member of the council and former CIFOR chairman, the guidelines’ primary focus is to offer operators who don’t have guidelines in place the opportunity to create industry procedures where none exist.
“This is a way for the industry to be involved and play a role in minimizing the potential for foodborne illness outbreaks,” Ferko, director of distribution food safety and quality assurance for U.S. Foods, said. “We pushed hard for this, to be a part of this. If regulators are out there investigating an incident, they may be doing or looking at the wrong things. We saw that we could play a role in improving things.”
According to Ferko, he and the other council members felt it was important for the industry to have a say on how best to respond and have an impact on illness outbreaks.
“There isn’t really anything else out there that speaks to the industry on how to protect against a foodborne illness outbreak,” he said. “This really came out of the CDC looking at investigations that were done well after the fact and hadn’t been done very well. It was more about getting information rather than addressing the impact of an outbreak. The industry’s role is to be able to provide information to regulators so they can know where the source of an outbreak is.”
Note: The CIFOR Foodborne Illness Response Guidelines are intended to serve as a voluntary reference for owners, operators and managers of food establishments in preparing for and/or involvement in foodborne disease outbreak investigations. The Guidelines are not intended to be all-inclusive or to anticipate and address every conceivable situation.