FDA seeks food illness model

The Food and Drug Administration plans to create a modeling tool for food threats.

FDA officials want a simulation that can predict the outcome and determine possible causes of food contamination outbreaks, based on variables such as illness symptoms and characteristics of a public health response. Officials could then simulate responses. "This system should be able to model the flow of food but also let us manipulate variables to create what-if scenarios," said Morris Potter, the FDA's project officer and lead scientist for epidemiology in the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

The tool would outline where to find and how to extract data, such as food production and distribution, human consumption patterns and illness symptoms and outcomes.

"It helps us predict what happens when certain things go wrong so we can be better prepared, and it helps us prioritize," Potter said.

Officials also expect to be able to run the system in reverse, entering outcomes to predict the origin.

The FDA released a request for proposals in late June. Once agency officials award a contract, they expect to have a basic model within a year. "The model should, at the end of one year, be a fine model, but it might not have all the bells and whistles," Potter said.

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