Senator Klobuchar Pushes for Rapid Response to Foodborne Ills

Friday, May 29th, 2009 at 8:47 am

MINNEAPOLIS (Thursday, May 28, 2009) – Joined by Minnesota public health experts, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar held a news conference today to announce that she is introducing federal legislation to promote a more rapid and effective national response to outbreaks of foodborne sickness like the recent case of salmonella-tainted peanut butter.

The Food Safety Rapid Response Act of 2009 would strengthen federal, state and local capabilities for investigating outbreaks of foodborne disease and tracing the sources of contamination.

“As a former prosecutor, I believe the first responsibility of a government is to protect its citizens,” said Klobuchar.  “When people get sick or die from contaminated food, it means our government has failed in this duty.  By strengthening our nation’s food safety system, we can save both lives and money.”

Klobuchar said her legislation is based on Minnesota as a national model for food safety.

She highlighted the collaborative work involving the Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the University of Minnesota

This Minnesota model includes Team D (for “Team Diarrhea”), a group of investigators that races into action when there are suspected cases of foodborne illness in the state.

The Minnesota team was the first in the country to trace the sources of the two most recent nationwide salmonella outbreaks.  Last spring, people across the country were getting sick from salmonella. After cases began to show up in Minnesota, Team D managed to trace the contamination to jalapeno peppers from Mexico.  In the fall, people across the country were again getting sick from salmonella, including nine deaths (three of them in Minnesota).  Again, the Minnesota team succeeded in tracing the source to peanut butter from a processing facility in Georgia.

“The nation should not have to wait until someone in Minnesota gets sick or dies before there is an effective national response to a large-scale outbreak of foodborne illness,” said Klobuchar.  “The problem is that the responsibility to investigate potential foodborne diseases rests largely with local and state health departments, and there is tremendous variation in terms of the priority they give to this responsibility.  Food safety is a national issue that deserves national action.”

Klobuchar said her Food Safety Rapid Response Act has three main provisions.

-It would direct the Centers for Disease Control to enhance the nation’s foodborne disease surveillance system by improving the collection, analysis, reporting and usefulness of data among local, state and federal agencies as well as the food industry.

-It would also direct the Centers for Disease Control to provide support and expertise to state health agencies and laboratories for their investigations of foodborne disease.  This includes promoting “best practices” for food safety investigations.

-It would establish regional “Food Safety Centers of Excellence.”  Based on collaborations between selected higher education institutions and state public health agencies, these centers would assist state and local agencies, building on Minnesota’s Team D model for investigating foodborne disease outbreaks.

Klobuchar said her Food Safety Rapid Response Act complements the bipartisan Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009, introduced in March, which would strengthen the Food and Drug Administration’s authority and resources to ensure a safe food supply.  Klobuchar is also a lead sponsor of that legislation.

Joining Klobuchar at today’s news conference were John Finnegan, Dean of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health; Mike Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy; Craig Hedberg, Professor of Public Health at the University of Minnesota; and Carlota Medus, an epidemiologist at the Minnesota Department of Health who supervises Team D.

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