Food Poisoning Outbreak Investigations to be Aided by New Database

In an attempt to speed up the process of identifying bacteria responsible for food poisoning outbreaks, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is creating a genome database that will work as a sort of genetic catalog. 

The food pathogen database, comprised of 100,000 foodborne pathogen genomes, will allow researchers to develop tests that can identify the type of bacteria present in a sample within a matter of days or hours, significantly faster than the approximately one week it now takes between diagnosis and genetic analysis.

The new database, according to the FDA report, will also speed up testing of raw ingredients, finished products, and environmental samples taken during investigation of foodborne illness outbreaks. This type of information also enables scientists to make new discoveries that drive the development of new methods to control disease-causing bacteria in the food chain, the FDA said.

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The project is a collaboration of the University of California, Davis, Agilent Technologies Inc., and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The FDA’s contribution to the project consists of providing more than 500 already completed Salmonella whole-genome draft sequences, thousands of additional important food pathogen strains for sequencing, and bioinformatic support. FDA scientists also will participate in guiding the project and providing technical assistance when needed. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will also collaborate on the project.

The CDC’s role will be to provide its foodborne disease expertise, strains to be sequenced and other information for use in the project. CDC experts will also serve on the steering committee for the project, the report says.

The genomic sequencing will be coordinated by UC Davis, which is also providing access to its collection of bacteria samples. The sequencing will be done at the newly formed BGI@UC Davis genome sequencing facility. As sequences are completed they will be stored in the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Biotechnology Information’s public database.

The announcement comes in the wake of several food poisoning recalls this year.

This month, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced a recall of approximately 324,770 pounds of various frozen, ready-to-eat meatballs sold by Buono Vita, Inc. due to potential contamination with Listeria monocytogenes­­–bacteria that can lead to listeriosis food poisoning.

In June, fears of listeria poisoning also led to the recall of more than 1,000 cases of Dole bagged salad sold under the Kroger and Wal-Mart labels at stores in six states.

Also in June the FDA announced the recall of Liquid Gold Carrot Juice, sold in 16oz., 32oz., and half-gallon and gallon sizes. The carrot juice recall, posted by the FDA June 22, indicated the product may be contaminated with Clostridium botulinium, which can cause botulism, a serious and potentially life-threatening form of food poisoning.


  • PhilipSeptember 1, 2012 at 5:31 am

    Earlier tonight at Chili's we tried to order the chips and salsa. Our waeitr told us that because of the Salmonella Scare, they didn't have any salsa left. I freaked out when I heard this, because I usually snack on grape tomatoes by the hand full when I'm at home. Luckily grape tomatoes aren't affected.

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