School Lunch Blues Exercise Provides Real-World Emergency Preparedness Training

July 14, 2015

Every day during the school year, thousands of Georgia students head to the cafeteria at lunch time to enjoy a hearty school meal.

It’s hard enough feeding such a large number of students in a short time frame each day, but protecting students from food-borne illnesses is an even larger undertaking for the typical cafeteria staff.

That’s where the Georgia Food and Feed Rapid Response Team (GA RRT) comes to the rescue.

The GA RRT is a coalition of food safety and emergency response leaders led by the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) and multiple sister agencies including the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH), the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The GA RRT also partners with neighboring federal agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The team was established in 2010 through a partnership between the State of Georgia and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Today, the GA RRT has become one of the premier and most integrated food safety response teams in the nation.

Recently, the GA RRT coordinated the School Lunch Blues Functional Exercise at the State Operations Center to simulate a salmonella outbreak linked to products distributed to elementary, middle and high school students.

The GA RRT was activated and stood up using the Unified Incident Command System to coordinate the participation of multiple jurisdictions and agencies. This unified response allowed all partner agencies to leverage each other’s powers and expertise to implement a common set of objectives to investigate and mitigate the outbreak.

The exercise was so extensive it crossed state lines, including the resources of other states that have food safety and emergency rapid response teams including North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Mississippi. 

Response activities were organized to mimic real-world practices used to protect the public’s health during a food contamination case such as: emergency sampling of food products; epidemiological investigations of illness; traceback procedures to determine the source of the food contaminant; and mitigation strategies such as product embargos, seizures or a withhold from sale to prevent further distribution of the affected product.

All participating members agreed that the School Lunch Blues exercise was a great success as it provided a deeper understanding of the important practices that enhance Georgia’s capabilities to respond to a food or feed emergency.

Beyond the inter-agency partnership, the team work and dedication exemplified among DPH employees was one of the most inspiring components of the exercise.

Experts from DPH’s Environmental Health Section, Emergency Preparedness teams, Epidemiology Section and Georgia Public Health Lab all joined forces, sharing their skills and insights that would play an important role in protecting Georgians during a real food safety emergency.                                                     

The School Lunch Blues mock food contamination case was part of the GA RRT’s multi-year efforts to expand its procedures that equip Georgia to swiftly respond to a wide array of emergencies such as hurricanes, floods, droughts, ice storms and even intentional contaminations or acts of bioterrorism.

Thanks to this successful preparedness exercise, all of Georgia’s residents, businesses and local organizations can rest assured knowing the GA RRT is always at the ready whenever they need them most.

About the Author

You might like...

August 1, 2017

School bells will soon be ringing all over the Coastal Health district signifying the start of a new school year. Several health departments in the district held back-to-school clinics to help parents complete the required immunizations and health screenings. One of those clinics took place at the Chatham County Health Department where vision, hearing, dental, and nutrition screenings were provided at no cost.

November 9, 2016

Fifty-three school districts in Georgia were presented with Golden Radish Awards celebrating the incredible gains made in the farm to school movement. These districts represent nearly one-third of all public school districts in Georgia, reaching more than 1 million students.

April 4, 2016

The Burke County School District recently joined the growing list of Georgia school districts that are tobacco-free. It was the efforts of the students themselves who presented the 100% Tobacco-Free School model policy to the members of the board of education and won their approval.