by Mike Smith, specialist, food safety program
APHL is holding the 13th Annual PulseNet Update Meeting in Utah this week. In the spirit of partnership, this year’s meeting is being held in conjunction with the 5th Annual OutbreakNet Meeting. Holding these meetings together is allowing professionals in the fields of epidemiology and laboratory science to exchange ideas and information as we improve a U.S. food safety system that some believe is faltering.
Michael Taylor, the new senior advisor to the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, presented the keynote address. In his speech, Taylor emphasized the need to “construct a whole new level of partnership to prevent foodborne illness.” He went on to state that “it must be a partnership that empowers the full range of people working on food safety at federal, state and local levels to succeed in their common cause of preventing foodborne illness.” Taylor stressed that these partnerships will be key if the prevention-focused vision for food safety in the U.S. set forth by FDA and Congress is to be successful. It’s going to take adequately-funded public health professionals across a range of disciplines at the federal, state and local levels working in harmony to effectively implement and execute FDA’s public health prevention vision. Now that there seems to be a real opportunity for change, let’s hope that our lawmakers provide more than just lip service to support this ambitious endeavor.
To highlight the theme of partnerships that Taylor so eloquently spoke about in his speech, I would like to close with the following analogy. The current U.S. food safety system is a very complex machine much like the engine of a car. And like the engine of a car, the U.S. food safety system consists of many pieces working in unison. If even one piece of the food safety engine malfunctions, the whole machine breaks down. In the past, when these pieces have broken, the lawmakers and leaders of this country have been too eager to replace the needed precision components with discount parts. Worse yet, it seems they neglected the maintenance of the machine altogether. As evidenced by foodborne illness outbreaks over the past 15 years, we can’t afford to let this machine falter any longer. It’s time that we start investing in the whole machine, maintaining it so that we don’t continue to experience these costly, and far too often deadly, outbreaks. The opportunity for change is now. Are the lawmakers ready to take this issue seriously? For the sake of this country’s well-being, let’s hope so.