Thursday, 24 March 2011

Ensuring national and international food safety

Tuesday’s session on ensuring national and international food safety was addressed by a panel of experts in different fields. The list of speakers comprised of Dr. Noel Greis who is director of the Kenan Institute’s Center for Logistics and Digital Strategy and professor of Operations, Technology and Innovation Management at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Dr. Leslie Wolfe is the Laboratory director of the NC State laboratory of public health, Ms. Sharron Stewart, a graduate of N.C. State University with certificates in both Public Management as well as Community Preparedness and Disaster Response from UNC-School of Public Health, is the Director of Emergency Programs Division, North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and Mr. Brett Weed, Food Defense Coordinator of the Food and Drug Protection Division of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Dr. Noel Greis presented on an analysis tool, NCFEDA that is being developed to aid outbreak investigation. NCFEDA stands for North Carolina Food Events Data integration and Analysis. The tool works by combining different data sources to establish a pattern and aid investigators and public health officials in establishing outbreaks of food borne illnesses and the pattern of illness. The program will input information from a wide array of data sources such as twitter, physician reports, newspapers, laboratory reports, and google to create its pattern. The main feature of this program is a tool that it enables data fusion, creates visualization of the data, analyzes it, and enables researchers to share the information and collaborate with other researchers and public health officials.

The development is still in its infant stages but there is promise that it will significantly reduce the turnaround time in outbreak investigation. Allusion was made to the peanut salmonella outbreak that took up to 10 months to investigate and completely recall and the hope is that this tool can reduce this turnaround time.

Dr. Leslie Wolf presented on the laboratory side of management of food borne illness outbreaks. She talked about the PulseNet network of accredited laboratories that are involved in food inspection. What is unique about this network is that it is a collaboration of laboratories across different states and between Europe and USA. The aim of these laboratories is to enable early detection of pathogens and share information. This should lead to a reduction of potential morbidity and mortality in the population.

Ms. Stewart shared with us the importance of protecting North Carolina’s agricultural infrastructure. There are more pigs than people in our state and Sampson-Duplin County is the #1 protein producer in the world, making foot-and-mouth disease our biggest threat. Now that people are wondering where their food is coming from, transitional farmers are in need of training to assure the biosecurity of locally grown food. Other danger zones for biosecurity include the 45 agriculturally sanctioned fairs and two State Fairs in NC each year where pony rides and petting zoos are in close proximity to delicious foods. Ms. Stewart hopes that we can start to integrate social media into food safety in North Carolina.

Mr Brett Weed also shared on the food biosecurity in North Carolina.

Some of the questions asked by audience included the following:

1. Is increasing federal, state and local legislature the way to improve the number of cases of food contamination?

2. How legitimate is the suggestion that a more locally sourced and supported food system would reduce the threat to food insecurity and/or foodborne illness?

3. Moving from the US to the low-income countries without an effective food surveillance system, how do we make food safe for consumption? How do we reduce the burden of food borne infections?


Many thanks to the very able presenters who expertly answered all the questions that were raised and for the exciting and informative presentations.