Getting the message across: an analysis of foodborne outbreak communications between federal, state, and local health agencies
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To assure coordination of emergency response across multiple areas of responsibility, clear methods of communication between public health agencies need to be defined before responding to foodborne outbreaks. Such capacity is essential to assure the United States can satisfy its goal of achieving an Integrated Food Safety System, as mandated under the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act. With this in mind, a comparative analysis was conducted of 21 states' general operating procedures to ascertain lines and modes of communication related to foodborne outbreaks, evaluate for procedural commonalities and best practices, identify potential barriers to effective communication, and make recommendations to enhance multi-directional coordinated information exchanges among health agencies. The analysis identified that while all states included recognize the value of a prompt response in disease identification, investigation and control, coordinated communication strategies within and between affected public health agencies is less robust. Many protocols are vague in establishing parameters for what information can be shared with other agencies, and under which circumstances. A multitude of electronic portals exist for collaborative purposes; however, these resources are not centralized. Recommendations for systemic improvement include expanding the current food protection rapid-response teams to all 50 states, assuring that formalized inter- and intra-agency communication plans exist in every outbreak response protocol, assuring the Incident Command System is explicitly stipulated in every regulatory outbreak response plan, and establishing funding opportunities for county and local health agencies related to communication training and system enhancements for collaborations in the midst of an outbreak.
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