Foodborne Illness Outbreak Investigation Training Needs: A Survey Among State Public Health Staff in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic United States

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Abstract

Context:

In 2011, the Food Safety and Modernization Act established Integrated Food Safety Centers of Excellence across the United States to train, educate, and enhance the skill of foodborne illness outbreak investigation teams. To target regional training efforts, the New York Integrated Food Safety Center of Excellence (NYCoE) identified training needs in food safety and foodborne illness investigations among public heath staff in 11 states and 1 large metropolitan area in the Northeast.

Objective:

To identify topics so as to develop training materials relevant to food safety and foodborne disease outbreaks in order to improve and impact foodborne outbreak investigations regionally and nationally.

Design:

Cross-sectional, paper-based survey conducted in January-February 2016.

Setting:

Eleven Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, and 1 large metropolitan area.

Participants:

Foodborne illness outbreak investigators in the NYCoE region.

Main Outcome Measures:

Identification of training needs, as self-reported by participants, regarding general foodborne outbreak investigation needs and those specific to epidemiologists, environmental health specialists, and laboratorians. Topics included basic food safety/processing knowledge, communication and metrics, and training formats. Information regarding demographics, utility of the NYCoE, and certificate programs was also collected.

Results:

Surveys returned from 33 respondents (from 10 states and 1 metropolitan area) identified metrics (100%), increasing use of culture-independent diagnostic tests (85%), and guidance on implementation of the Council to Improve Foodborne Outbreak Response (guidelines (89%) as the top training needs. By field, epidemiologists cited training in applying whole genome sequencing (100%), environmental health specialists cited training on the National Outbreak Reporting System (67%), and laboratorians cited training on whole genome sequencing (91%) as important. Short, online, or in-person, 1- to 2-day trainings were the preferred training formats (≥91%). Respondents wanted certificate programs in food safety (73%).

Conclusion:

New diagnostic and molecular techniques are highly desirable topics for trainings, as is understanding national guidelines and outcome measures. Shorter and hands-on training formats, as well as certificate programs, are desirable. The NYCoE used the results of this survey to (i) select training topics for a Food Safety symposium conducted in July 2016 and to (ii) drive other activities.

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