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Food Safety Specialist Hopes New Tracking Strategy Will Lead to Better Intervention

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A new partnership to improve food safety and better track foodborne illness is an approach that a Kansas State University food safety specialist says will lead to better intervention strategies.

"Despite all of the efforts currently being utilized to reduce foodborne illness — the grants, the research, the extension work and the education — we still have a rather high number of people who get sick and even die from foodborne illnesses, so it's still a big issue that we have to deal with," said Fadi Aramouni, professor of food processing and food product development.

The government is taking a new approach to foodborne illness by better tracking and analyzing the outbreak data to determine which foods are responsible for illness related to four major foodborne bacteria. The newly formed Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration, which is a partnership of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, conducted the research.

Among the findings:

  • More than 80 percent of E. coli O 157 illnesses were attributed to beef and vegetable row crops, such as leafy vegetables.

  • Salmonella illnesses were broadly attributed across food commodities, with 77 percent of illnesses related to seeded vegetables such as tomatoes and sprouts, as well as eggs, fruits, chicken, beef and pork.

  • Nearly 75 percent of Campylobacter illnesses were attributed to dairy. Most of the dairy outbreaks used in the analysis were related to raw milk or cheese produced from raw milk.

  • More than 80 percent of Listeria illnesses were attributed to fruit and dairy. Data were sparse for listeria, and the estimate for fruit reflects the impact of a single large outbreak linked to cantaloupes in 2011.

"Tracking foodborne illness like this will help develop and implement food safety systems that address these issues," Aramouni said. "For example, if they find out there are more and more outbreaks due to seeded vegetables with salmonella, maybe we have to develop special intervention strategies for those. Then we will have data to see whether our intervention strategies have worked or not."

Estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show these four pathogens cause 1.9 million cases of foodborne illness in the United States each year.

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