Jay Sjerven

The Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration (I.F.S.A.C.) — established in 2011 by scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture — on March 24 issued its second five-year strategic plan, which aims to enhance cooperation between the agencies in developing the analytic capabilities to identify which foods are the most important sources of selected major foodborne illnesses. Each of the agencies has its own analytic foodborne illness expertise and capabilities. I.F.S.A.C. enables them to pool this experience and the data behind it, and share resulting models and conclusions with state and local officials as well as with industry and consumer stakeholders.

I.F.S.A.C. in introducing its strategic plan for 2017-21 said, “By bringing together data from a variety of sources, broadly exporting an array of methods and disciplines, and developing sound analytical methods, I.F.S.A.C. scientists can improve estimates of the sources of foodborne illness.”

The team’s first strategic plan (2012-16) aimed to improve methods to categorize foods implicated in outbreaks; generate estimates of the percentage of certain foodborne illnesses due to each food source attribution; identify data needs, including how better to gather and organize data available for source attribution; validate and improve methods and modeling approaches; and create a plan to communicate results to the public.

Food safety D.N.A.
The primary purpose of the strategic plan “is to continue to improve estimates of foodborne illness source attribution, and to develop methods to estimate how sources change over time.”

Acting on these goals, I.F.S.A.C. developed a new food categorization scheme that C.D.C. now uses to classify foods implicated in outbreaks. This and several other efforts resulted in improved methods for attributing illnesses to specific foods “and, even more importantly, served as the foundation for a key project that resulted in tri-agency consensus on a method for estimating the sources of foodborne illnesses, with uncertainty bounds around the proportion attributed to various food sources, for Salmonella spp., E. coli 0157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes, and Campylobacter, using outbreak data.”

The primary purpose of the strategic plan for 2017-21, I.F.S.A.C. said, “is to continue to improve estimates of foodborne illness source attribution, and to develop methods to estimate how sources change over time.”

To this end, I.F.S.A.C. outlined three principal goals for 2017-21: improving the use and quality of new and existing data sources; improving analytic methods and models; and enhancing the use of and communication about I.F.S.A.C.’s analytic products.

With regard to improving the use and quality of new and existing data sources, I.F.S.A.C. said it aimed to identify major gaps in relevant data and data sources, advocate for ways to close the identified data gaps through acquisition of new and existing data and sources of data, and support state and local public health agencies in the collection of relevant data. I.F.S.A.C. said it also will work with regulatory agencies to incorporate regulatory sampling, inspection and enforcement data into attribution studies, and to evaluate the use of existing laboratory-based surveillance data.

Of particular note was the attention the new strategic plan directed at incorporating genomic data and other novel data sources.

“I.F.S.A.C. plans to work with federal partners to develop standard mechanisms to obtain whole genome sequencing data and collaboratively work with federal and state partners to incorporate these data into analyses,” the agency said.

I.F.S.A.C. also noted, “Public and private data sources, such as the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and purchasing volume data have the potential to inform analyses of foodborne illness sources and help in developing better and more precise estimates … I.F.S.A.C. intends to explore the benefits and limitations of these and other novel data sources to improve estimates.”

On enhancing the use of and communication about I.F.S.A.C. products, the strategic plan said the inter-agency group will seek to further develop engagement with scientific groups and external stakeholders, engage agency stakeholders on ways to assess the impact of agency policies and regulations and inform new policies, identify the audience for and assess gaps in I.F.S.A.C. products, identify and implement improved approaches to communicate differences in attribution estimates, and work with federal partners to increase the use of I.F.S.A.C. methods and estimates.