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Interpreting Data to Modernize Food Safety: Meet Dr. Joanna Zablotsky Kufel

Dr. Joanna Zablotsky Kufel discovered community and public health at Tufts University in Massachusetts. Afterwards, she worked in public health for a couple of years and then moved to Baltimore, Md., where she earned her Masters in 2003 and Ph.D. in 2009 at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “After learning all about food safety at the state and local level, I still wanted to learn more about food safety at the federal level, where you can influence food safety throughout the entire food chain,” said Dr. Zablotsky Kufel.

Dr. Zablotsky Kufel began her career with USDA as a summer intern working for the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS). Today she works as a Public Health Food Safety Analyst with FSIS, analyzing data from across FSIS gathered by inspectors in the field, and partner agencies to evaluate FSIS policies and performance. The analyses performed and reports produced allow FSIS to effectively use science and data to understand foodborne illness and emerging trends, respond to those risks and ensure that food safety inspection aligns with decreasing those risks.

Dr. Zablotsky Kufel and her colleagues developed the “All Illness Measure”, a key measure of FSIS’ performance that helps assess whether the work that FSIS employees perform is having an effect on how often people get sick from food that FSIS regulates.

“We use a public health approach that involves Assurance – Measurement – Refinement to ensure the food supply is safe,” she explained. “FSIS Inspection Program Personnel work to make sure that regulated product is safe and produced in accordance with FSIS policies (Assurance). We then measure FSIS’ impact on the public’s health and determine whether our policies and activities are having a positive effect (Performance Measurement). This allows FSIS to evaluate existing policy methodologies and create new and innovative approaches to further prevent foodborne illness (Policy Development/Refinement).” The cycle, incorporated in FSIS’ 2011-2016 Strategic Plan, creates a feedback loop that helps FSIS modernize and better address existing and emerging food safety threats.

Dr. Zablotsky Kufel also works with CDC and FDA analysts on the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration to determine what foods cause human illness. “In the next 5 years, I see CDC, FDA and FSIS working together even more closely to prevent illness and having a more real-time understanding of what causes illness—with the ability to react much more rapidly to emerging trends,” Dr. Zablotsky Kufel explained.

“I really enjoy working with some of the best minds in public health and food safety to figure out how best to use the data we have, identify new sources of data, understand why people get sick and learn how we can prevent outbreaks in the future.”

Faces of Food Safety is an initiative by FSIS to introduce Americans to the real people who work every day to keep the food in their own homes and yours safe. Click to read more about Dr. Zoblotsky Kufel and other Faces of Food Safety on FSIS’s website.

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