Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in collaboration with other federal partners including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of
Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), released a new web-based tool called the Food Related Emergency Exercise Boxed set.
Better known as FREE-B, the online program is a collection of five scenarios
that, according to FDA, “will help government regulators, public health organizations and the food industry test their readiness for food-related emergencies, such as a human health emergency caused by an unintentional contamination of produce with E. coli O157:H7.”
Each of the five scenarios contains a Facilitator’s Guide, a Lead Planner’s guide and a Situation Manual. The five scenarios are as follows:
- How Sweet It Is(n’t) – This scenario focuses attention on the regulatory traceback investigation that occurs after standard product testing shows that a food product contains excessive levels of a contaminant, as well as a recall of contaminated food.
- Stealthy Situation – This exercise is a comprehensive scenario and highlights nuances encountered when a cluster of illness is associated with a foodservice establishment. The scenario includes the epidemiological investigation, identification of affected product through traceback procedures, implementation of a recall, and the role of regulatory agencies.
- Wilted Woes – This scenario begins at the outset ofearly signal detection with clinical illness reports, and focuses on the epidemiological investigation process to identify the food vehicle when there is a human health emergency caused by an unintentional contamination of produce with E. coli O157:H7.
- High Plains Harbinger – This scenario focuses on the investigation of animal disease caused by intentional infection of cattle with Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) virus, highlighting the various animal agriculture agencies (Federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal) and their roles and responsibilities, as well as introducing the roles and responsibilities of law enforcement agencies during an animal health emergency.
- Insider Addition – This scenario focuses attention on the intentional aspect of contamination of a raw meat product at the processor with a chemical agent. Various nontraditional organizations and expertise needed to investigate intentional contaminations and the establishment of collaborative processes and roles and responsibilities with the traditional public health and regulatory partners are highlighted.
Designed to help test and develop food emergency response plans, protocols and procedures, the FDA is hopeful that the five FREE-B scenarios will “help food and agriculture stakeholders and emergency preparedness planners collaborate better with each other, neighboring jurisdictions, the food industry and federal agencies during food emergencies.”
Deputy commissioner of the FDA Michael Taylor pointed out that “[b]eing prepared for any kind of emergency is critical to a rapid and effective response. FREE-B helps people think about their own responsibilities in a time of crisis and how to best work with others involved,” he added.
FDA’s target audience for the FREE-B tool includes state, local, tribal, and territorial regulatory and public health partners. The agency anticipates that the tool will benefit Departments of Health, Departments of Agriculture, Departments of Consumer/Environmental Protection Services, FDA Rapid Response Teams, Innovative Food, Defense Program Grant recipients, and Food Protection Task Force Grants recipients.
As FDA’s press release explains, by participating in the scenarios found in FREE-B, stakeholder will:
- Cultivate professional skills by learning how to work with dynamic, ad-hoc teams facing critical food emergency incidents that threaten the safety of the public.
- Assess readiness to effectively address a food contamination incident.
- Define roles and interactions with partners.
- Understand the purpose and objectives of federal, state, local and industry organizations and how each provides resources to address different aspects of food contamination scenarios.
- Take appropriate, timely and effective steps to remediate emergency situations that are caused by intentional or unintentional acts.
“It is critical for decision-makers involved in a food safety incident to appreciate the varied roles each must play to reduce foodborne illness, from data collection and analysis to traceback efforts to communicating with the public about how to protect themselves,” said Beth P. Bell, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. “FREE-B will give stakeholders such an opportunity.”
Those interested in learning more about FREE-B are being asked to sign up to receive more information from the Food Defense Oversight Team as it becomes available.