The Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration, made up of FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Department of Agriculture also will try to develop methods to better estimate how sources of foodborne illness change over time, according to the five-year plan.
The goal builds on food safety advances made by IFSAC in the last five years after the coalition was originally created in 2011 as a way to better coordinate federal food safety analytic efforts and “address cross-cutting priorities for food safety data collection, analysis and use,” according to the plan.
In that time, IFSAC focused on identifying which foods are the most important sources of selected major foodborne illnesses, the report notes. Specifically, it identified four priority pathogens that it believes were responsible for about 21% of foodborne illnesses, 56% of related hospitalizations and 54% of related deaths annually in the United States. These include Salmonella, E coli, Listeria monycytogenes and Campylobacter.
It explains the work is vital because “federal agencies and food safety experts rely on attribution analysis to inform strategic planning and risk-based decision-making, estimate benefits of interventions, and evaluate the impact of interventions such as new or revised regulations, policies and performance standards.”
To meet the new goal for the next five years, IFSAC will take a three-prong approach that includes improving the use and quality of new and existing data sources; improving analytic methods and models and enhancing the use of and communication about the coalitions analytic products, according to the strategy document.
Improving data sources
While existing data sources on foodborne illness are “highly valuable,” they also are incomplete and inconsistent in how contributing factors and specific implicated ingredients are reported and collected in a national database.
To amend this, IFSAC plans to work with federal, state and local partners to improve the quality of data collected during outbreaks. It also plans to add new data sources to the national database, including regulatory sampling data and whole genome sequencing, to improve estimates, the strategic document states.
Improving analytic methods and models
The second prong of the strategy to improve analytic methods and models aims to allow for more precise estimates that take into account data “sparseness and missingness,” and to account for uncertainty, according to the five-year plan.
It also will work the problem from the other end and try to develop new analytic approaches to make better use of the data it already has, according to the report. This will allow IFSAC to move forward “without having to wait for new data sources.”
For example, IFSAC attribution currently is based only on four pathogens and single contaminated ingredients, but by improving existing analytic methods it could tackle outbreaks associated with multi-ingredient foods, such as chicken salad.
Finally, the three agency coalition hopes that by opening its doors to other internal agencies and experts outside of the participating agencies it will be able to better develop and incorporate data, methods and models for attributing the source of foodborne illness.
Improving communication about IFSAC products
Recognizing that “communication is a key component of IFSAC’s efforts,” the coalition plans to work more closely with stakeholders, including scientific groups and those outside of IFSAC projects. This will include going beyond simple dumping data on stakeholders to actually helping them draft new policies based on the information.
“Ensuring that IFSAC’s analytic products are meaningful, easily understood and useful is an essential component of IFSAC’s overarching goal to improve attribution. IFSAC plans to continue working with analysts, communication specialist and others to provide meaningful explanations for results… ensure those products are easy to use and interpret and ensure they reach the intended user,” the strategic plan says.