Header graphic for print
Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Graduates – I have one word for you – Epidemiologist

You might find this not surprising, but I read the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) weekly. In reading this week’s article “Food Safety Epidemiology Capacity in State Health Departments — United States, 2010,” I was struck by the thought that if I had to do it all over again, I would have taken a path towards epidemiology instead of law. Today, that seems like a good choice – assuming the public will pay for it.

The report found that in 2010, states reported a need for 304 more employees working in food safety to reach full program capacity – i.e. do the job effectively. The greatest demand for master’s degree–level epidemiologists (50% of demand). So perhaps Epidemiologist has become this decade’s plastics.

The report also found (not surprisingly) that barriers to investigating foodborne outbreaks reported most often by states included delayed notification of the outbreak (reported by 41 states), lack of a sufficient number of foodborne safety staff members (29 states), lower prioritization of investigations (27 states), lack of ability to pay overtime (20 states), lack of adequate epidemiology expertise (12 states), difficulties working with in-state agencies (eight), constraints related to administrative support (eight), and difficulties working with other state or federal agencies (five).

In addition to the personnel, financial and structural problems discussed the report noted with concern that the Council to Improve Foodborne Outbreak Response (CIFOR) Guidelines for Foodborne Disease Outbreak Response, which was intended to improve outbreak response, has been slow being adopted. Among the states, 47 plan to read the document, 39 plan to distribute it, and 29 plan to review their practices against the recommendations in the Guidelines and the performance indicators therein. Few states reported plans to implement or incorporate the Guidelines into practice in the immediate future (27%).

Graduates – I still have one word for you – Epidemiologist. However, there is much more work to be done to get the funding and environment right to do your job well.

  • buckeye2001

    We need the current laws enforced to stop deaths and fraud…prosecutions…whistle blower laws that actually defend and protect employees who are trying to be proactive
    Where are the quality control personnel and the rating agencies….reporting to their employers not the regulators.
    Self regulation protects the companies not the consumers…from the farm to Wall Street
    Until they are held accountable for their actions and not just their opinions nothing will change.
    At least business can be sued…government regulators are free to offer only opinion and most will not even do that.

  • Malcolm Kane

    Stick with the Law Bill !
    Epideiologists are essential but they can only measure the scale of the problem. Food Safety professionals are needed to identify the causes and increasingly that will be focused upon management negligence and recklessness, with ever increasing punishments from the Courts, including custodial sentences as is happening here in the UK. Here we have also seen attempts to prosecute a food business operator under Gross Negligence Manslaughter where a death attributable to food poisoning has occurreed.The maximum custodial penalty far exceeds that for any food hygiene/safety offence.
    Food Safety professionals and Lawyers specialising in this field need to work together to better define the aggravating culpability categories of negligence, recklessness etc., in terms of the management actions and inactions that lead to food safety failures and food poisonings.
    We also need to focus upon microbiological sequelae…the longer term adverse effects of food poisoning like reactive arthritis (Salmonella) or IBS/IBD (Campylobacter, Shigella…) in addition to the more dramatic sequelae of enteropathogenic E. coli (HUS). US and UK epidemiologists are hampered in their efforts to evaluate this problem because of data access restrictions due to patient confiedntiality concerns.