Crisis Scanning for Food-borne Illnesses

The best way to manage a crisis is to prevent one from occurs.  Prevention means the crisis inflicts no harm on your stakeholders or your organization.  The Consortium for Sequencing the Food Supply Chain (lead by IBM Research and Mars) is trying to find ways to anticipate the threat of food-borne illnesses.  In the crisis world, food-borne illnesses are a type of product harm crisis and are sometimes called food safety crises.  Those in food safety talk about food-borne disease (FBD), a global public health problem impacting millions of people each year.


The Consortium describes its work this way:


In a novel large-scale experiment between IBM and Mars, Inc., researchers are harvesting and sequencing the DNA and RNA of simple food samples to determine where anomaly and selection occur when paired with common organisms or genes, toxins, and heavy metals. The index produced from this study will result in a “microbial baseline,” or a benchmark representing normal microbe communities, which food and health officials can use to understand what triggers contamination and the spread of disease.


By combining the database transportation, weather, and other contextual data, people will be able to predict when certain trigger events will create a food safety crisis/FBD.  Food producers will know when an outbreak is about to occur.  The given the amount of data used in the process, this can be called a big data solution for crisis scanning.


Anticipation of food safety crisis/FBD can save lives and prevent serious injuries.  Food-borne illness outbreak occurs when medical personnel confirm two or more people are linked to the same pathogen.  A systematic effort is them made to locate the source of the outbreak.  The effort includes questionnaires about food consumption to those who are ill and those who are not ill in an effort to locate the source.  About 60% of food-borne illness outbreaks are from food consumed at restaurants and other institutions (e.g., schools, prisons, nursing homes, etc). This can be a slow process.  Food sales data has been shown to provide a faster solution to locating the problem.  Still, the ability to prevent a food-borne illness or to identify it at its very inception will be a great benefit to public safety. 


Questions to Consider


1.  Why will crisis prevention never be 100%?


2.  How might those involved in the food industry integrate the work of the Consortium into their crisis planning efforts?


3.  What makes a food safety crisis unique from other product harm crises?



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