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  1. Outbreaks of Foodborne Illness

About the CORE Network

FDA's CORE Network—A New Approach to Managing Foodborne Outbreak Surveillance, Response, and Post-Response Efforts

FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) Network was created to manage not just outbreak response, but surveillance and post-response activities related to incidents involving multiple illnesses linked to FDA-regulated human and animal food and cosmetic products.

The goal of the CORE Network is to build upon the best of what we currently do across FDA in incident response, and not only to streamline, but to strengthen FDA’s efforts to prevent, detect, investigate, respond to, and learn from incidents and outbreaks.

Members of the CORE Network at the Headquarters level are assigned on a continuous, full-time basis to ensure continuity of effort and to promote strong team building—both within the CORE staff and with our internal and external stakeholders. The teams are multidisciplinary, and represent a stronger emphasis on the types of expertise needed to enhance the ways FDA handles both response and post-response activities related to incidents of illnesses linked to human and animal food.

A Change in Approach

By having a full-time staff to prepare for, coordinate and carry out response to incidents, we can improve response time and standardize our procedures and activities. And, by having a centralized, full-time staff dedicated to post response activities (which were previously spread out across various FDA offices), we can concentrate more on lessons learned, to try and prevent incidents in the future and incorporate what we’ve learned into more effective, preventive food safety practices and policies.

The Network

The CORE Network includes all the key, strategic FDA resources in place in the field—these include, but are not limited to the District offices and Regional Specialists, the Rapid Response Teams that work with our state partners; the Office of Crisis Management at FDA; FDA's Offices of Public Affairs and External Relations; and the subject matter experts at the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and the Center for Veterinary Medicine.

The goals of CORE are goals all of us at FDA share: more in-depth signal, trending and surveillance; streamlined decision making and quicker response time if an outbreak occurs; seamless coordination and enhanced communication; and ultimately, increased public health protection leading to effective preventive food safety practices and policies.

CORE Investigation Process

CORE includes a Signals and Surveillance Team, three Response Teams, and a Post-Response Team. An investigation coordinated by CORE begins with the Signals and Surveillance Team. 

The Signals and Surveillance Team is all about early detection that will limit or prevent illness linked to dietary supplements, cosmetics, and foods for both people and animals regulated by the FDA. Team members comb through information that is reported into various databases by local and state health agencies and even search through news stories. The team members are looking for “signals” or “red flags” that could be an early warning of a pending outbreak. They discuss emerging disease surveillance trends directly with CDC and, through FDA field offices, with state health agencies. In addition, the Signals Team searches FDA data for historical information on firms, such as past inspections or sampling results, all in an effort to “connect the dots.” 

Once an outbreak related to an FDA-regulated product is identified, all of the available information is handed over to one of the three response teams. Response Teams have one goal: to control and stop the outbreak. First, they must find the source and then they must ensure contaminated product is taken out of circulation. To do that, a Response Team works directly with the FDA field offices and their investigators on a response strategy. In a combined effort, the team, field offices and state and local agencies track down leads, and trace product distribution. The information provided through this detective work is evaluated against the information on illnesses to make sure the investigators are on the right track. Close coordination among the FDA, CDC, and state and local regulatory, public health and agriculture departments is crucial to stopping an outbreak. CORE is the coordination point for all FDA resources. 

When the active response to an outbreak is complete, the CORE Response Team transfers responsibility to the Post-Response Team. This team looks at all aspects and factors of the outbreak, from ingredient sourcing to production and distribution, including from foreign countries. Team members work to identify the source of an outbreak and how the contamination could be prevented in the future. Their work may lead to new research on how contamination can occur, or it may lead to outreach to industry and other food safety agency partners on new ways to prevent future outbreaks. Improving FDA internal processes is also a key interest of the team, which evaluates, along with other federal and state partners, the FDA response in order to incorporate lessons learned and constantly improve future responses.

From August 2011 through December 2016, CORE teams have evaluated more than 575 potential foodborne illness incidents. In addition, teams have identified and investigated 140 outbreaks suspected of being linked to FDA-regulated products.

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