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Feds release assessment of 2008 Listeriosis outbreak


The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) each released their Lessons Learned Reports.

The reports come after a thorough review of how each office handled last year’s listeriosis outbreak.

What they did well

Overall each office feels it responded well to the outbreak. Health Canada says it provided consistent and timely laboratory services to its other federal partners and coordinated well with its partners in transferring and sharing relevant laboratory information.

The PHAC points out, among other things, that its Outbreak Management Division in the Centre for Food-borne, Environmental and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases coordinated the national epidemiological investigation.

And that its National Microbiology Laboratory led the laboratory arm of the national outbreak investigation, coordinating and analyzing all laboratory data including results generated elsewhere, and providing analyses and interpretation of genetic “fingerprints.”

The CFIA notes that in its office there are several key players who are involved in food safety investigations and recalls, such as the Office of Food Safety and Recall (OFSR) and the Science Branch (National Laboratory Operations and the Laboratory Network). These groups include technical assessors and program specialists.

CFIA staff followed established procedures during the food safety investigation and recall implementation processes. OFSR demonstrated leadership, mobilized quickly and worked collaboratively. Overall, it says, its office’s internal coordination was effective.

What they want to improve

Each office also made recommendations and outlined areas for improvement.

For instance, Health Canada says that while it was well prepared to respond to the outbreak, areas for improvement include:

* more proactive and targeted communications to the public;
* improving laboratory surge capacity for emergency situations;
* reviewing departmental policies and procedures to ensure that they reflect emerging food safety issues; and
* streamlining its internal processes for dealing with health risk assessments and interactions with other government departments during a crisis.

PHAC says it needs to revisit:

* the foodborne illness outbreak response protocol;
* create a central repository of agreements;
* clarify, communicate and practise event management roles, responsibilities and mechanisms; and
* enhance capacity in the Centre for Food-borne, Environmental and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (Ongoing, Surge, and Succession).

The CFIA writes that it needs to streamline communications and says there is a need for greater clarity regarding the approval processes in the follow-up stage of the recall process.

There is also a need to re-examine and update the criteria for initiating a process for managing high-profile or urgent incidents to facilitate early engagement of senior level decision makers and to enhance coordination across CFIA branches. And there’s a need to improve future multi-jurisdictional responses.