Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration (IFSAC) strategic plan for foodborne illness source attribution
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Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration (IFSAC) strategic plan for foodborne illness source attribution

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    Estimating the number of illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths caused by major pathogens is an important step in the prioritization of pathogens for disease control programs. Estimating the proportions of these illnesses that are due to specific food sources (foodborne illness source attribution) is a necessary second step to determine the specific interventions needed to reduce illness and to measure progress toward public health goals resulting from food safety policies and interventions. Estimates of foodborne illness source attribution are used for many purposes, including informing strategic planning, informing risk-based decision-making, estimating benefits of interventions, and evaluating the impact of interventions.

    Presently, Scallan et al (2011) provides estimates of the annual number of foodborne illnesses caused by 31 major pathogens. However, to prioritize resources and inform food safety strategic planning and policy decisions, illnesses must be attributed to a food source. Foodborne illness source attribution estimates rely on a variety of data sources and methodologies. Data from outbreak investigations, studies of laboratory-confirmed illnesses, expert elicitations, and risk assessments can all help to determine sources of human infection. However, estimation of foodborne illness source attribution for each pathogen is hampered by a number of methodological and data limitations. For example, determining the proportion of illnesses reported to public health authorities that are directly attributable to contaminated foods is complicated by the fact that foodborne pathogens can also be transmitted through a variety of other exposure pathways, such as exposure to contaminated water and direct contact with animals or other infected persons. Data on food vehicles that cause illness are obtained through interviews during outbreak investigations or special epidemiologic studies (e.g., case-control studies), but most ill persons are not interviewed, and if they are interviewed they are unlikely to know the source of their infection. Analytic methods used to estimate foodborne illness source attribution are complex and rely on many assumptions. Considering these challenges, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) have joined together to form the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration (IFSAC), with the initial objective of estimating the source attribution of infections associated with specific foods and settings. A process for determining IFSAC analytic priorities, identifying specific analytic projects that address priorities, and providing resources and oversight for approved projects has been outlined in the IFSAC charter. This tri-agency group is operating with the understanding that data improvements and the development of multiple analytic methods are needed to generate more accurate estimates of foodborne illness source attribution across the broad range of commodities and points in the food supply chain. These improved estimates of foodborne illness source attribution will provide informational critical to effective food safety initiatives and polices will contribute to reducing the number of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. population.

    IFSAC was created to address complex analytical issues that require cross-agency cooperation and agreement. By working together to address these challenges, FDA, CDC, and FSIS can ensure that methods and results produced as a result of this collaboration are appropriate, meaningful, and useful to all parties. For this group, analytic collaboration can take many forms. In cases where one federal agency possesses particular analytical skills or unique expertise in a specific data source, that agency might take the analytical lead for an IFSAC project, but technical workgroup members from the other two agencies will serve on the general project workgroup to provide additional resources and relevant expertise pertaining to data, methods, and results. In other situations, the analytical workload may be equally shared by all federal agencies. Maintaining a flexible approach to project development and execution allows for the most appropriate technical workgroup members to participate in each project while ensuring that the final product is produced in a time-efficient manner and provides the desired outcomes outlined by all parties.

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