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The Tennessee Department of Health is partnering with the University of Tennessee to enhance food safety and improve response to outbreaks of foodborne illness in Tennessee and across the country. The effort is funded by a $200,000 grant awarded to TDH by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create a Center of Excellence. Tennessee was one of only five states to receive such funding.
“Surveillance and investigation of outbreaks of foodborne illness, along with our more than 70,000 annual inspections of food service facilities and extensive laboratory work, are vital areas in which we work to protect public health. We are proud of the recognition by this grant of our high-caliber work in Tennessee,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “This will further foster a great relationship with our University of Tennessee partners to help improve our efforts to control these outbreaks, prevent additional cases of illness and learn how to keep similar outbreaks from occurring in the future in Tennessee and across the country.”
The collaboration will establish the Integrated Food Safety Center of Excellence at UT. The focus of the center will be to strengthen disease surveillance and outbreak investigation; provide training to public health workers; train future epidemiology and food safety leaders in foodborne disease surveillance and outbreak investigation and conduct research and outreach activities focused on increasing prevention, communication and education regarding food safety. Deputy State Epidemiologist John Dunn, DVM, PhD, is principal investigator on the award and is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.
“We are very excited to partner with the University of Tennessee in the creation of the Integrated Food Safety Center of Excellence,” said Dunn. “This is a unique opportunity to leverage the resources of our state health department and the university to improve food safety.”
Foodborne illness is a common, yet preventable, public health problem. Each year, roughly one in six Americans, or 48 million people, get sick from foodborne illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of that number, 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases. CDC reports the most common foodborne illnesses are caused by norovirus and by bacteria including Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens and Campylobacter.
Calls from concerned citizens are often how outbreaks are first detected. Any individual who suspects foodborne illness should contact his or her local health department to make a report, or call Tennessee’s Foodborne Illness Complaint Hotline at 1-800-293-8228. Find a list of Tennessee’s county health department locations with contact information online at http://health.state.tn.us/localdepartments.htm.