Officials with the Food and Drug Administration are working on a pilot program to coordinate food recalls.

FoodSHIELD is a multi-purpose on-line platform for federal, state and local public health officials, state laboratory personnel and regulatory authorities to use during food safety emergencies and to collaborate on preparedness and response plans. The platform is sponsored by the National Center for Food Protection and Defense (N.C.F.P.D.), a Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence.

F.D.A. officials put FoodSHIELD through its paces in May 2009 during a simulation of a recall audit check using the platform to coordinate the effort, said Jacqueline Little, team leader in the Office of Enforcement within the F.D.A. Office of Regulatory Affairs. Using data from a recent recall, officials from seven states uploaded audit check information into FoodSHIELD. Then, F.D.A. field officials reviewed the information and either approved it or asked for additional information. According to F.D.A., the pilot successfully demonstrated the use of FoodSHIELD as a data sharing and communications tool in food recalls.

Heather Brown, program analyst with the Office of Resource Management, said the pilot program “is a great example of our efforts to collaborate across agencies and on all levels of food protection.”

In addition to the platform’s use for coordination during food recalls, FoodSHIELD also has a working group function used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service. In this function FoodSHIELD allows for a vetting process, access controls on documents and record keeping.

The FoodSHIELD communication capability allows public health officials contact information on representatives from the F.D.A., the D.H.S., the U.S.D.A. and relevant state agencies in addition to access to roughly 4,000 contacts, which allows recalls or other actions to be broadcast widely. It also allows public health officials and federal regulators to share real-time information during an emergency.

“When there are emerging foodborne illness outbreaks, you’ll have folks sharing information back and forth to identify the source,” said Shaun Kennedy, director of the N.C.F.P.D. and a professor at the University of Minnesota.

Yet another tool available on FoodSHIELD is the Consequence Management System, which is a visual modeling tool that may be used to forecast potential effects of a particular incident. The system calculates and displays potential morbidities, mortalities and economic impact from a contaminant in the food supply, Mr. Kennedy said.

“The FoodSHIELD site has uses beyond food supply emergencies,” said Patrick McCaskey, executive associate for laboratory services at the F.S.I.S. “Officials can use FoodSHIELD to find information on issues such as food defense, regulatory programs, public health, laboratory testing and other related topics. FoodSHIELD offers members several ways to collaborate online such as video conferencing as well as on-line review and editing of documents.”

The U.S.D.A. funded development of FoodSHIELD. The N.C.F.P.D. will support the platform's ongoing operations beginning in fiscal 2010 using funding from the D.H.S., the F.D.A. and the U.S.D.A.