Tools used in the management of food-borne illness outbreaks

Governments work together when there’s a national or international outbreak of food-borne illness and in doing so rely on some key tools to help them respond to the outbreak effectively.

The Foodborne Illness Outbreak Response Protocol (FIORP 2010) is the technical and operational protocol that guides how federal, provincial and territorial public health and food safety authorities work together in the investigation and management of national or international food-borne illness outbreaks.

If an outbreak escalates to the point where additional federal support and leadership are needed, then the federal health portfolio turns to the Food-borne Illness Emergency Response Protocol (FI ERP) to provide national coordination and ensure linkage across federal departments. The FI ERP is built on the FIORP, but sets out criteria to identify when an outbreak response is considered an emergency as well as the roles of the additional federal support. Some of the criteria that could contribute to the decision to move to this next level of response would include severity and scope of illness; an unusual pathogen; and rapid escalation of illness even after health measures have been put in place.

Canada also follows the International Health Regulations (IHR). The IHRs, as they are known, help ensure international cooperation among countries for monitoring, reporting and responding to public health events. Under the IHRs, any country that is aware of a potential public health emergency of international concern must notify the World Health Organization to facilitate information-sharing with other countries so that appropriate public health measures can be put in place.

By the same token, various levels of government within Canada may need to share information with each other when dealing with an outbreak. The provincial, territorial and federal governments have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the Sharing of Information during a Public Health Emergency that is aligned with the IHRs. Just as its title indicates, this MOU sets out how information is rapidly shared during a potential public health emergency of national or international concern and defines the criteria for a public health emergency and the federal-provincial-territorial decision making process.

Each year Canadians become ill from the foods they eat. Food-borne illness outbreaks are quite common and investigating them can be complex. These important tools are in place to help public health and food safety authorities respond quickly, efficiently and effectively to help protect the public from these outbreaks.

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