Foodborne outbreaks are unpredictable and often require a rapid response that includes fieldwork and sample collection to identify the source of the outbreak. Our Food Safety Environmental Services Program recognizes the importance of being prepared for these unplanned emergencies, which is why we always have foodborne outbreak response kits at the ready.

A few years ago, after attending a Food & Drug Administration sample training event, we realized that our kit at that time would not be adequate in the event of a large foodborne outbreak investigation requiring extensive sampling. With the guidance of the FDA, and using their sampling kit as a model, we updated our kit to increase our capacity to respond to foodborne and waterborne outbreaks and collect large amounts of samples. In addition, we ordered insulated coolers for transporting large quantities of samples and purchased and froze gel packs ahead of time to keep samples at the proper temperature.

This change proved to be highly beneficial when the Office of Infectious Disease Services and the Food Safety and Environmental Services Program investigated multiple high profile outbreak investigations, all within several weeks of each other, that included collecting cucumber samples associated with a Salmonella Poona outbreak investigation and food samples associated with Salmonella at two large facility-based investigations. A cucumber collected during the investigation subsequently tested positive for Salmonella Poona and led to a voluntary recall. Food collected during one of the facility investigations also tested positive for Salmonella, which assisted our staff with developing an intervention strategy to prevent further disease spread.

We have found these foodborne outbreak response kits to be so beneficial, that we have offered to provide a kit to every county in Arizona. In addition to providing critical investigation resources to the counties, by providing the kits we are able to help local health departments towards their work in meeting the FDA Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards, which include best practice requirements to meet standards associated with foodborne outbreak response. We hope to deliver all kits to the counties within the next several months.