NEWS

New Technology Makes Foodborne Illnesses Harder to Source

By Carlton Purvis

Technology advancements to help detect foodborne illnesses faster are making it harder to pinpoint the source of contamination.

Traditional tests required public health authorities to grow cultures of pathogens like e. coli and salmonella in a lab and send a sample of the colony to local, state, or federal officials who would test the samples, using DNA to identify specific strains. 

The DNA sequence was entered into a database that would allow other investigators to cross reference the original samples with other cases to help find the source of contamination.

Now, the shift to rapid testing leaves public health officials with much less information to work with when investigating a foodborne illness outbreak.

Rapid testing uses nonculture tests that are great for detecting a wide variety of pathogens much faster than traditional tests. They require little training and fewer staff to administer. They can even detect pathogens culture tests can’t.

But what they’re missing is that DNA profile that helps identify the source.

"We saw our surveillance data changing, and by 2010, almost 15 percent of total case reports were using the nonculture tests," Alicia Cronquist, an epidemiologist with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment told Scientific American.

Said another epidemiologist,” these rapid tests put us back where we were when we didn't have the ability to do [DNA] fingerprinting." 

Read the full report from Scientific American at Yahoo News here.

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