Karst chat with Dave Gombas: on harmonized standards and the puzzling case of listeria on cantaloupe

09/22/2011 03:33:00 PM
Tom Karst

11:26 a.m. Karst; What do you think of the recent announcement of the Food and Drug Administration’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) Network?

11:27 a.m. Gombas: We are very hopeful. The plan sounds right, to have a dedicated team at FDA whose job it is to coordinate outbreak response rather than picking and choosing whoever is available and hoping somebody is going to be around. This promises to be a much more organized process for outbreak response. I’m hopeful that they will take on the role of being coordinator not just for FDA but also for all the state and local groups. Take for example the listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupe. I would like to see FDA be in coordination of what Colorado does, Nebraska and all the outbreak teams that are involved in investigating that, so there is a coordinated response not just guys trying to figure out who is in charge.

11:28 a.m. Karst: What role does industry have to play, if any, in something like this?

11:29 a.m. Gombas:  Not much. This is definitely an internal role. We would like to be able to work with them in outbreak investigations, especially the early stages to test out hypothesis. Actually what I am doing this week is attending an outbreak meeting in Long Beach California speaking to the Centers for Disease Control and state epidemiologists about  the role of industry in those early stages of outbreak investigations. They have all the epidemiology tools but they know nothing about the commodity. If the industry is involved in the early stages to test out the hypotheses, I think everybody would be better served so we wouldn’t have another 2008 incident. Epidemiology was very very clear that it was tomatoes and it was very wrong.

11:31 a.m. Karst: With this recent foodborne outbreak linked to cantaloupe, do you have any observation about that? Does it surprise you what has transpired wit the cantaloupe and listeria?

11:32 a.m. Gombas: Complete surprise. FDA pointed out there has only been three listeriosis outbreaks linked to commercially  prepared produce in the U.S. ever, and that is going back 30 years. My first reaction to (the news) hat there was a listeriosis link to whole cantaloupes was that it was nonsense - they got it wrong. Well, apparently they got it right. Now the question is, how in the world could that have happened? So that’s another thing I’m hoping for out of this new CORE department -  answers. In the past, whenever an outbreak occurred, as soon as FDA figured out who the responsible party was, it was pretty much mop up and move on. Now with CORE, I’m hoping they can do enough evaluation afterwards, as to what went wrong and what was the root cause. A dedicated team to evaluate the cause was so they can tell the industry that it is what went wrong, really, so we can avoid that from ever happening again. What I’m concerned with is that if you have a perfunctory evaluation- going back to the 2006 E. coli spinach investigation, they brought on a CDC hydrologist and the hydrologist concluded that the aquifer in that region was contaminated with E. coli O157 and that was the reason why produce got contaminated. We all know now that is nonsense, but it is out there in the history books.


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