FDA database tracks source of foodborne illness outbreaks

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is using its GenomeTrakr database to track bacterial pathogens that cause foodborne illnesses.

Useing whole genome sequencing technology, the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and the Office of Regulatory Affairs are collaborating with public health laboratories to compare the genomic information of bacteria and compile it into a database available to the public. Whole genome sequencing identifies the genetic material of a bacterium and compares it to bacteria isolated from patients who have been diagnosed with foodborne illnesses.

Using this comparison, the analysts can peg a location for the source of the foodborne illness and possibly the ingredient that is contaminated. Because whole genome sequencing is more sensitive than older genome sequencing methods, it can identify the differences between strains of bacteria depending on their geographic location.

The database currently contains more than 11,000 isolates, according to a Feb. 10 FDA blog post by FDA Technology Development Officer Alice Welch. The database could help contain some of the 48 million foodborne illnesses in the U.S. each year.

"As the world becomes even more interconnected, FDA has recognized the urgency of creating new approaches and better tools to detect food contamination and stop outbreaks in their tracks," Ms. Welch wrote.

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