The last time anybody counted, there were 2,864 local health departments operating in every state except Rhode Island. Some are units of state governments, cities and counties operate many, and others are a state-local hybrid.
To think that the so-called “first responders” on the frontlines of food-borne illness outbreaks would ever be on the “same page” might be expecting too much.
"Guidelines for Foodborne Disease Outbreak Response", a 200-page report by seven professional organizations and three federal agencies, are designed to achieve just that.
It will not immediately replace local procedure manuals for those responding to outbreaks, but it will serve as a reference guide and best practices document.
“It is our hope that this document will be useful to investigators at all levels in improving outbreak investigations and serve as a platform for developing local and agency-specific policies and additional tools to support these critical public health activities, said Tennessee State Epidemiologist Dr. Tim Jones.
Jones is co-chair of the umbrella group that wrote the Guidelines, The Council to Improve Foodborne Outbreak Response (CIFOR). The Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists and the National Association of County and City Health Officers lead the group.
“The main thing is this provides state and local departments with the best practices,” said Scott E. Holmes of Nebraska’s Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department. He said currently there are no standard methods for conducting an investigation into a food-borne illness outbreak.
The Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO), the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL), the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA), the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Centers on Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are the other members of CIFOR.
The document is available online in this PDF file.
Foodborne illness in the United States causes 76 million cases of illnesses, over 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths annually, according to CDC. Hospitalizations due to foodborne illnesses are estimated to cost over $3 billion and lost productivity is estimated to cost between $20 billion and $40 billion each year.