The proposals, for a network of regionally based FDWE laboratories working within a new national framework, are being sent to Local Authority chief executives and other stakeholders for their input on how best to implement the new service in their local areas.
"It is vital in today's world that we have a strong laboratory service in place across the country to allow us to respond quickly to food and water outbreaks of infection," said Mary O'Mahony, director of Local & Regional Services at the HPA.
"The changing nature of food sources and production around the world, as well as terrorist activity in recent years, has increased the need for continual improvements in our capacity to deal with everything from food poisoning cases to a deliberate attack on food or water supplies," she added.
The FDWE laboratories provide data for the government on science in food policy and identify public health interventions. For example, the labs recently orchestrated a collaborative public health investigation of raw shell eggs in the London region that highlighted hospitals using eggs contaminated with the food-borne pathogen Salmonella.
Under the new proposals, each regional network would have a designated lead FDWE laboratory which would act as the focus of outbreak and incident response and new technology in that region. The national framework would ensure high microbiology standards as well as monitor the laboratories contributing to surveillance, data flows and national projects and outbreak investigation.
The key aim of the HPA's proposed new network is to develop an integrated, effective and reliable FDWE microbiology service, as well as a formal system which reflects the changing service needs of customers in the National Health Service, Local Authorities and other agencies, according to the HPA.