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Opinion: Reducing Foodborne Illness

New testing technologies and improved communication among regulatory agencies are making strides in the fight against foodborne disease.

By | August 22, 2011

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, IVAN ATMANAGARA

As evidenced by the E. coli outbreak in Europe earlier this year, which claimed dozens of lives and sickened thousands more, bacterial contamination of foods remains a significant problem. This outbreak clearly demonstrated that, despite recent improvements in technologies to detect and trace foodborne outbreaks, it will take continual advances in knowledge and techniques to prevent future epidemics.

Each year, roughly one out of six Americans, or 48 million people, contract foodborne illnesses, according to estimates from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The economic impact of foodborne illness is staggering, with a recent report from the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute concluding that five leading pathogens —Campylobacter, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Toxoplasma gondii and norovirus — cost the nation $12.7 billion annually. But while it may seem like we’re experiencing more outbreaks than in the past, this perception merely stems from improved detection of the responsible contaminants. And better detection, applied earlier in the food distribution chain, is paving the way toward the prevention of foodborne outbreaks.

A digitally colorized scanning electron microscope image of Campylobacter jejuni
A digitally colorized scanning electron microscope image of Campylobacter jejuni
WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, DE WOOD, POOLEY, USDA, ARS, EMU

In the mid-1990s, for example, the CDC instituted a program called PulseNet following a large E. coli outbreak in the western United States. A national network of public health and food regulatory agencies, including state health departments, local health departments and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are using common procedures to test bacteria from ill people and compare it to bacteria sampled from foods. Similarities identified help public health and regulatory officials determine whether an outbreak is occurring, and if so, where it originated and which way it’s headed. With PulseNet, outbreaks and their sources can be identified in a matter of hours rather than days. A recent National Biosurveillance Advisory Subcommittee (NBAS) report called for a similar effort worldwide to help recognize and respond to global threats, like the European E. coli outbreak, more quickly.

A color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph showing Salmonella typhimurium (red) invading cultured human cells
A color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph showing Salmonella typhimurium (red) invading cultured human cells
WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, ROCKY MOUNTAIN LABORATORIES, NIAID, NIH

Furthermore, a number of food testing technologies developed by corporations in recent years are detecting lower levels of pathogens in less time, enabling contaminated foods to be more quickly identified and prevented from making it to market in the first place. DuPont Qualicon and BioControl, for example, have developed rapid tests that use polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to detect Salmonella and Listeria in about 24 hours. This is a dramatic improvement over traditional culture methods used two decades ago that took anywhere from four to seven days to return results.

Another test, developed by my colleagues at bioMérieux, detects low levels of Salmonella contamination in a one-step sample preparation, and delivers results in as little as 19 hours. The test, launched this past June, utilizes recombinant bacteriophage proteins from viruses programmed to identify and infect Salmonella. Because phages are extremely host-specific, they offer unrivaled sensitivity and specificity for detection and differentiation of bacteria from food and environmental samples. bioMérieux also has developed a phage-based test for the detection of E. coli O157:H7 — the strain that causes the majority of serious, E. coli-related illness — within eight hours.

A digitally colorized micrograph image of E. coli
A digitally colorized micrograph image of E. coli
WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, MATTOSAURUS

Foodborne outbreaks will continue to occur, but with faster, more efficient diagnostics, we can intervene more effectively, better manage these outbreaks and prevent the spread of foodborne illness. With the progress of tools like PulseNet and advances in rapid diagnostic technology, our food is safer now than it was 20 years ago. And I firmly believe that 20 years from now, we will be able to say the same thing.

J. Stan Bailey is currently the Director of Scientific Affairs for bioMérieux Industry. Before joining bioMérieux, Inc., he worked as a research scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1973 to 2007, and in 2002, was named Outstanding Senior Research Scientist. He can be reached at stan.bailey@biomerieux.com.

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Comments

Avatar of: Handwasher

Anonymous

August 22, 2011

Here's my suggestion for reducing foodborne illness: WASH YOUR HANDS! I know, too simple for most people.

Avatar of: Rusty94114

Anonymous

August 22, 2011

Much of this problem could be eliminated by gamma- or x-ray treatment of food. But food neurotics have convinced the American public that it's better to suffer food poisoning than to adopt "unnatural" technologies to make our food safe to eat. Consequently, food markets are unwilling to carry products that have been rendered safe by these technologies, and instead carry only high-risk foods. And all Americans are thus forced to risk their health and their lives every time they eat a salad or a fruit or a piece of meat that is cooked less than "well-done".

Avatar of: Ag-girl

Anonymous

August 22, 2011

 Irradiation treatments of food requires facilities to administer, staff and a good PR campaign-sorry but I do not want an irradiation facility in my backyard. Decentralizing of food systems would help in preventing the spread of pathogens and its cheaper.

Avatar of: A J

A J

Posts: 1457

August 22, 2011

Excellent article.

To fight against foodborne diseases New testing technologies and improved
communication among regulatory agencies are making  great strides . Many
food borne diseases can be awarded by taking adequate steps by preventing the
contaminated food being marketed.

Another method is simple preservation of food without fridge in rural areas
which are age old practices. For example while cooking rice people stir the
cooking rice to keep the whole contents getting uniform boiling. Afterwards
they take away water by tilting the vessel(which is used as drink). Thus the
food cooked in the afternoon is preserved for the dinner also.

In a basket made of wires with gap tied to the roof people preserve vegetables
and onions. One should not forget the fact that free circulation of air will
keep the vegetables and food preserved for longer times.

Age old methods of preservation of foods should be studied scientifically to
blend the traditionalism and modernism.

Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore (AP), India
E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

Avatar of: Juan

Anonymous

August 22, 2011

Simple, tried and proven true solutions are important to incorporate.  Regarding the cooked rice, if the rice is stored too long at room temerature after the "kill" step, is there not a concern for the germation of pathogens such as Bacillus Cereus from spores unaffected by the cooking process?

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

Here's my suggestion for reducing foodborne illness: WASH YOUR HANDS! I know, too simple for most people.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

Much of this problem could be eliminated by gamma- or x-ray treatment of food. But food neurotics have convinced the American public that it's better to suffer food poisoning than to adopt "unnatural" technologies to make our food safe to eat. Consequently, food markets are unwilling to carry products that have been rendered safe by these technologies, and instead carry only high-risk foods. And all Americans are thus forced to risk their health and their lives every time they eat a salad or a fruit or a piece of meat that is cooked less than "well-done".

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

 Irradiation treatments of food requires facilities to administer, staff and a good PR campaign-sorry but I do not want an irradiation facility in my backyard. Decentralizing of food systems would help in preventing the spread of pathogens and its cheaper.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

Excellent article.

To fight against foodborne diseases New testing technologies and improved
communication among regulatory agencies are making  great strides . Many
food borne diseases can be awarded by taking adequate steps by preventing the
contaminated food being marketed.

Another method is simple preservation of food without fridge in rural areas
which are age old practices. For example while cooking rice people stir the
cooking rice to keep the whole contents getting uniform boiling. Afterwards
they take away water by tilting the vessel(which is used as drink). Thus the
food cooked in the afternoon is preserved for the dinner also.

In a basket made of wires with gap tied to the roof people preserve vegetables
and onions. One should not forget the fact that free circulation of air will
keep the vegetables and food preserved for longer times.

Age old methods of preservation of foods should be studied scientifically to
blend the traditionalism and modernism.

Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore (AP), India
E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

Simple, tried and proven true solutions are important to incorporate.  Regarding the cooked rice, if the rice is stored too long at room temerature after the "kill" step, is there not a concern for the germation of pathogens such as Bacillus Cereus from spores unaffected by the cooking process?

Avatar of: Eric Olsen

Anonymous

August 22, 2011

Washing ones hands will not make for safe food in all instances. The 2006 spinach recall is an example where hands hand nothing to do with the e-coli found in ready-to-eat spinach. FDA finally declared that the vector for the e-coli was from farrow pigs on a ranch that leased fifty acres of land to an organic spinach grower. Conclusion; e-coli from pig feces got into the organic plants. That was true, but the story continues.
The last person to die in that episode was a 73 year old woman in Seattle. Her son, upon inquiry, stated that his mother5 never bought organic RTE products.
The real conclusion was that the organic grown spinach became mixed with the conventional grown spinach which became infected with e-coli. Otherwise, that mixing of products could not have occurred had the wash cleaning of the loose leaf spinach had been correctly pperformed. That is, change water in all baths, seperate organic from convention by both space and time following a check list that the process media had been properly changed and charged with chlorine.
The Claifornia Department of Health had earlier in March, 2006 issued a warning that even washing RTE cut spinach would not render the product safe should it have been infected with a biological pathogen; the pathogen being in the process bath would probably, by capillary action in the cut plant, conatminate the interior tissue and thereby not be washed away in the home kithchen.
RTE products of fresh produce probably should never have been created. Conventional spinach growers cut the spinach leaves above the crown of the stem. The old harvester cut the stem below the crown, resulting in many less avenues for bacteria to be introduced to th einterior tissue of the plant. The reason for cutting above the crown? That allows two harvests of a single crop.

Eric Olsen
Central Coast California

Avatar of: Ronald Welsh

Anonymous

August 22, 2011

it is time to quit destroying food that is so desperately needed in developing countries.  lets get on with more irradiation of food products.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

Washing ones hands will not make for safe food in all instances. The 2006 spinach recall is an example where hands hand nothing to do with the e-coli found in ready-to-eat spinach. FDA finally declared that the vector for the e-coli was from farrow pigs on a ranch that leased fifty acres of land to an organic spinach grower. Conclusion; e-coli from pig feces got into the organic plants. That was true, but the story continues.
The last person to die in that episode was a 73 year old woman in Seattle. Her son, upon inquiry, stated that his mother5 never bought organic RTE products.
The real conclusion was that the organic grown spinach became mixed with the conventional grown spinach which became infected with e-coli. Otherwise, that mixing of products could not have occurred had the wash cleaning of the loose leaf spinach had been correctly pperformed. That is, change water in all baths, seperate organic from convention by both space and time following a check list that the process media had been properly changed and charged with chlorine.
The Claifornia Department of Health had earlier in March, 2006 issued a warning that even washing RTE cut spinach would not render the product safe should it have been infected with a biological pathogen; the pathogen being in the process bath would probably, by capillary action in the cut plant, conatminate the interior tissue and thereby not be washed away in the home kithchen.
RTE products of fresh produce probably should never have been created. Conventional spinach growers cut the spinach leaves above the crown of the stem. The old harvester cut the stem below the crown, resulting in many less avenues for bacteria to be introduced to th einterior tissue of the plant. The reason for cutting above the crown? That allows two harvests of a single crop.

Eric Olsen
Central Coast California

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

it is time to quit destroying food that is so desperately needed in developing countries.  lets get on with more irradiation of food products.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

Here's my suggestion for reducing foodborne illness: WASH YOUR HANDS! I know, too simple for most people.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

Much of this problem could be eliminated by gamma- or x-ray treatment of food. But food neurotics have convinced the American public that it's better to suffer food poisoning than to adopt "unnatural" technologies to make our food safe to eat. Consequently, food markets are unwilling to carry products that have been rendered safe by these technologies, and instead carry only high-risk foods. And all Americans are thus forced to risk their health and their lives every time they eat a salad or a fruit or a piece of meat that is cooked less than "well-done".

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

 Irradiation treatments of food requires facilities to administer, staff and a good PR campaign-sorry but I do not want an irradiation facility in my backyard. Decentralizing of food systems would help in preventing the spread of pathogens and its cheaper.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

Excellent article.

To fight against foodborne diseases New testing technologies and improved
communication among regulatory agencies are making  great strides . Many
food borne diseases can be awarded by taking adequate steps by preventing the
contaminated food being marketed.

Another method is simple preservation of food without fridge in rural areas
which are age old practices. For example while cooking rice people stir the
cooking rice to keep the whole contents getting uniform boiling. Afterwards
they take away water by tilting the vessel(which is used as drink). Thus the
food cooked in the afternoon is preserved for the dinner also.

In a basket made of wires with gap tied to the roof people preserve vegetables
and onions. One should not forget the fact that free circulation of air will
keep the vegetables and food preserved for longer times.

Age old methods of preservation of foods should be studied scientifically to
blend the traditionalism and modernism.

Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore (AP), India
E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

Simple, tried and proven true solutions are important to incorporate.  Regarding the cooked rice, if the rice is stored too long at room temerature after the "kill" step, is there not a concern for the germation of pathogens such as Bacillus Cereus from spores unaffected by the cooking process?

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

Washing ones hands will not make for safe food in all instances. The 2006 spinach recall is an example where hands hand nothing to do with the e-coli found in ready-to-eat spinach. FDA finally declared that the vector for the e-coli was from farrow pigs on a ranch that leased fifty acres of land to an organic spinach grower. Conclusion; e-coli from pig feces got into the organic plants. That was true, but the story continues.
The last person to die in that episode was a 73 year old woman in Seattle. Her son, upon inquiry, stated that his mother5 never bought organic RTE products.
The real conclusion was that the organic grown spinach became mixed with the conventional grown spinach which became infected with e-coli. Otherwise, that mixing of products could not have occurred had the wash cleaning of the loose leaf spinach had been correctly pperformed. That is, change water in all baths, seperate organic from convention by both space and time following a check list that the process media had been properly changed and charged with chlorine.
The Claifornia Department of Health had earlier in March, 2006 issued a warning that even washing RTE cut spinach would not render the product safe should it have been infected with a biological pathogen; the pathogen being in the process bath would probably, by capillary action in the cut plant, conatminate the interior tissue and thereby not be washed away in the home kithchen.
RTE products of fresh produce probably should never have been created. Conventional spinach growers cut the spinach leaves above the crown of the stem. The old harvester cut the stem below the crown, resulting in many less avenues for bacteria to be introduced to th einterior tissue of the plant. The reason for cutting above the crown? That allows two harvests of a single crop.

Eric Olsen
Central Coast California

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

it is time to quit destroying food that is so desperately needed in developing countries.  lets get on with more irradiation of food products.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 23, 2011

The recent discovery of bisin, a naturally occurring anti-microbial to both Gram-positive and -negative bacteria, could be added to food during production to greatly reduce food-borne illness. See:
http://www.license.umn.edu/Pro... 

and http://ow.ly/6apax

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 23, 2011

In the rural areas people use mud pots to cook the rice and preserve it. Mud acts as insulator and as such the problem you raise does not arise.

Dr.A.Jagadeesh  Nellore(AP),India
E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 23, 2011

The recent discovery of bisin, a naturally occurring anti-microbial to both Gram-positive and -negative bacteria, could be added to food during production to greatly reduce food-borne illness. See:
http://www.license.umn.edu/Pro... 

and http://ow.ly/6apax

Avatar of: Notch Communications

Notch Communications

Posts: 1457

August 23, 2011

The recent discovery of bisin, a naturally occurring anti-microbial to both Gram-positive and -negative bacteria, could be added to food during production to greatly reduce food-borne illness. See:
http://www.license.umn.edu/Pro... 

and http://ow.ly/6apax

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 23, 2011

In the rural areas people use mud pots to cook the rice and preserve it. Mud acts as insulator and as such the problem you raise does not arise.

Dr.A.Jagadeesh  Nellore(AP),India
E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

Avatar of: Anumakonda Jagadeesh

Anonymous

August 23, 2011

In the rural areas people use mud pots to cook the rice and preserve it. Mud acts as insulator and as such the problem you raise does not arise.

Dr.A.Jagadeesh  Nellore(AP),India
E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

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