Rapid Response Teams Are Critical Partners in Food Safety
By Nathan Libbey
Part of the challenge of ensuring a safe food supply is the multi-layered, multi-jurisdictional structure of enforcement and response. To help combat this challenge, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched the Rapid Response Teams (RRT) Cooperate Agreement Program in 2008 in nine pilot states. These teams use existing Incident Command System and National Incident Management system structures to respond faster and more efficiently to animal and human food emergencies. In 2019, the program has grown to 18 states with total funding in excess of $4.5M.
Wisconsin, after years of operating as an unfunded RRT (six states are currently unfunded), was awarded $300,000 funding for each of the next 5 years, totaling $1.5M. These funds have helped Wisconsin bolster its resources for surveillance, data analysis, communications, staffing, and training. Speaking to the Wisconsin Dairy Association in Madison recently, James Biex from the Wisconsin RRT demonstrated through local and national examples that these teams would not only help curtail response time and outbreak breadth, but also lead to a win for manufacturers as less of the affected product would be in the market. With the upcoming Democratic National Convention set for a Dairy State debut next year, Biex and his team are confident they have the right structure in place to defend the food supply.
While less than one-half of states have RRTs currently, the growth of the program should lead consumers and manufacturers alike to the conclusion that this system-based way of thinking about food safety and response isn’t going anywhere. Given that federal, state, county, and municipal jurisdiction may be muddy/overlapping in any given geography, these RRTs will help all agencies better understand how the food system is both intra and inter-dependent upon all pieces.
FDA is optimistic that these programs will help identify best practices in both training, collaboration, and preventive practices that will reduce foodborne illness and injury. Through their publicized findings in the RRT Best Practices Manual, FDA hopes to integrate these into existing initiatives and frameworks, such as the Manufactured Food Regulatory Program Standards. Given that several states still operate under a pre-2001 Food Code, this collaboration and information sharing is much needed and long overdue.
Nathan Libbey is a graduate student in the University of Minnesota Integrated Food Systems Leadership program.