Meet the Men and Women of CORE—FDA’s Outbreak Teams

By Kathleen Gensheimer, M.D., M.P.H.

Too many people die or become very sick after innocently eating a food that is contaminated with bacteria, such as Salmonella, Listeria or E. coli. FDA is taking innovative steps to prevent this from happening.

A year ago, FDA changed direction in its approach to outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. Last August, FDA launched the Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) Network, a full-time staff working with counterparts in local, state and federal agencies to investigate, control and prevent these outbreaks. Previously, FDA staff from across the agency would be pulled in on temporary assignments to combat an outbreak.

Kathleen Gensheimer, M.D., M.P.H.During CORE’s first week on the job, it came face-to-face with one of the deadliest outbreaks in this country in decades—Listeria monocytogenes in cantaloupes. Each of the CORE teams—a mix of outbreak veterans and new additions from across FDA—swung into action to identify the source and get the product off the market.

It was trial by fire—and only the first one. By the end of their first year, the CORE teams would deal with major outbreaks involving frozen tuna used in sushi, sprouts, frozen oysters and Turkish pine nuts. They would also face human illnesses linked to the handling of contaminated pet food.

Starting today, FDA will be issuing a series of Consumer Updates, beginning with an overview, that explains how CORE works, what it has accomplished, and what challenges it faces. Look for upcoming articles that feature each of the three CORE teams:

  • Signs and Surveillance: Finding the outbreak.
  • Response: Stopping the outbreak.
  • Post-Response: Preventing the next outbreak.

These articles will introduce you to the men and women of CORE. They come from different backgrounds, and include epidemiologists, veterinarians, public and environmental health specialists, and consumer safety officers. FDA is far more than a name, a group of buildings, or its inventory of equipment.  FDA is its people. People with families like yours. People just like the ones you’ll meet in these stories. This is not just a job to them. It is their mission, and that mission is to keep you and your family safe.

Kathleen Gensheimer, M.D., MPH, is Chief Medical Officer and FDA’s Director of Outbreak Investigation and Response