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Rapid Response Teams: Protecting Our Health

January 27, 2015
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In Georgia, protecting public health is a top priority for many state agencies that work to regulate food manufacturers, retailers, restaurants and institutions such as schools, daycares, hospitals and nursing homes.

However, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia ranked ninth in the country in 2010 for the number of foodborne illnesses per year. There is a clear need for increased efforts in protection against foodborne illness both on a state and national level, and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has come up with a plan to help.

Nationwide, foodborne illnesses and the efforts to protect the public from them are a major concern. Our food supply can be affected by rapidly evolving pathogens and other contaminants at any time, which may result in outbreaks of illness. In response, the FDA created Food Protection Rapid Response Teams or RRTs, which address the need for improved, integrated response to food and feed emergencies. In 2008 six pilot states kicked off the program; today 19 states are included.

In 2012, the Georgia departments of Agriculture, Public Health and Natural Resources’ Environmental Protection Division worked with the federal government to establish an RRT for the state. The team works to investigate, mitigate and solve food and feed emergencies as a part of a coordinated federal-state-local food safety system.

The past two years have included extensive training for the group, which has better prepared them to work as a team to respond to emergencies in Georgia and outside the state. Response activities may include routine product and environmental sampling, recall effectiveness checks and traceback/traceforward investigations.

Additionally, the team serves as a resource to the community, providing information on the salvaging and protection of perishable foods in emergencies and information on the sorting and disposal of potentially contaminated foods. A great example of the team’s response came during the ice storm in the winter of 2013; the Georgia RRT monitored power outages to understand the impact on food safety.

Georgia joins the other 18 rapid response teams across the nation in being able to act quickly in response to food emergencies, drawing on the resources and partnerships developed through this project to accomplish responses characterized by improvements in areas such as interagency communication, established plans and procedures and jointly trained and exercised staff.

To learn more, please contact Georgia’s RRT Program Manager, Brandon Sauceda or call (404) 656-3621.

About the Author

Alexandria Blake is an intern for the Georgia Department of Agriculture in the Food Safety Division. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture degree from the University of Georgia and is applying to graduate school to obtain a Master's Degree in Public Health.

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