Creating an Integrated Information Infrastructure for a Risk-Based Food Safety System

Information science—a term that refers to the collection, organization, storage, retrieval, exchange, interpretation, and use of information— and information technology (IT) are critical to the success of a risk based decision-making system.1 If the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is to implement a risk-based approach in fulfilling its regulatory mission, it must know what is happening in the arena it regulates; that is, data from the food enterprise must be appropriately collected, integrated, and analyzed.

Data Needs for a Risk-based System

To meet the needs of a risk-based system, data would ideally be collected at each point along the food production continuum—on the farm, in processing, during distribution, at retail, and in the home. A variety of data sources can contribute to an understanding of the epidemiology of foodborne illness, including data collected through surveillance, behavioral studies, analytical research, and traditional epidemiological studies.

Behavioral Data

Behavioral data are critical to understanding routes of transmission, implementing intervention strategies to change behavior, developing risk communications, improving public health response, and evaluating interventions. As discussed in Chapter 9, behavioral data are ultimately essential for developing strategies that will enable the FDA to communicate effectively with diverse audiences under a wide range of circumstances and through multiple communication channels.

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Economic Data

In a risk-based system, data on benefits and costs are combined for use in cost-effectiveness and cost–benefit analyses of alternative policy interventions. Economic data can be used to measure and understand several important dimensions of a risk-based food safety system. These data may be thought of as measuring factors that affect the demand for safer food by individuals and by society as a whole on the one hand and factors that affect the supply of safer foods on the other.


For purposes of this report, “surveillance” refers to the ongoing, systematic3 collection and analysis of contaminant, public health, and molecular data throughout the farm-to-fork continuum for use in preventing and controlling foodborne illness. Surveillance is a critical component of a risk-based food safety system in that it improves overall understanding of the epidemiology of foodborne illness.

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