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Selected Category: Foodborne

Public Health: Are We Too Slow?

Categories: Disease Investigation, Disease Outbreak, Foodborne, General, Response

 Meat thermometer and raw chicken breast

One of the many roles of public health is to protect consumers from threats like foodborne outbreaks. Much of this hinges on quickly getting out clear messages to the public that provide simple steps to help stem the spread of disease. This is something public health professionals have been doing for over a hundred years, but a recent outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg got us wondering, “Are we doing enough to keep the public safe? Are we too slow? And, How can we improve?”

Cheesy Chicken & Rice Recall: A Successful Outbreak Investigation

Categories: Foodborne

Epidemiology curve of number of cases and map of states affected by Salmonella Chester, with background micrograph of salmonella bacteria

I know it is summer when a quick review of our foodborne outbreak watch board shows four multistate outbreak investigations: Salmonella Chester, Salmonella Baildon, Salmonella Hartford, and  E. coli O157 due to contaminated bison meat products. Outbreak investigations play a key role in preventing foodborne diseases and often help public health officials identify areas for improvement in the food industry. The U.S. food production, processing, and distribution system generally provides safe food and numerous options to feed 300 million Americans every day. Occasionally, foodborne outbreaks occur when people eat food that has been contaminated.

A Primer on E. coli O145: A Little Contaminated Lettuce and a Lot of Different Os

Categories: Foodborne

Head of lettuce in colander next to sink with running water

Here is a quick summary of the recent Escherichia coli O145 outbreak associated with Romaine lettuce, and it highlights the amazingly quick FDA actions to prevent additional disease:

• On April 16th, public health authorities recognized an outbreak of bloody diarrhea at a university in Michigan that was later confirmed as being due to E. coli O145. The outbreak was subsequently linked to other similar school-based clusters in Ohio and New York.
• On April 27th, preliminary information linked these illnesses to a common supplier of Romaine lettuce.
• By the next day, April 28th, FDA had determined that the implicated production lots of Romaine lettuce were produced in late March from a single farm and accounted for all of the illnesses. These implicated lots were no longer in commerce, and no recall was necessary.
• Subsequent laboratory investigations of Romaine lettuce showed at least intermittent contamination on later production days from the processor and triggered preemptive recalls of first a single contaminated lot and then all production from the implicated farm. No illness has been associated with these later lots of recalled lettuce.

Food-borne Outbreaks Caused By Ingredients: Would You Like Some Pepper With That?

Categories: Foodborne

 Child shying away from pepper seasoning.

I often discuss the globalization and complexity of our food supply to highlight both the wonderful diversity of our yummy foodstuffs but also the challenges from contamination. Recently, architectural students in California provided a vivid example when they deconstructed a taco from a street-vendor to see the origin of each of the ingredients (see article) — from local cheeses to international spices and rice, which collectively travelled 64,000 miles to Juan’s Taco Truck in the San Francisco’s Mission District. State and federal public health officials do the same thing whenever there is a food-borne outbreak — identify the likely suspect and trace it back to its source — whether it be the grocery store, food distributor, factory, slaughterhouse, or farm. This is easier with what are called commodity outbreaks: ground beef or spinach, for example. Tracking down the source is extremely difficult, however, when the contamination is an ingredient that may be in many different foods.

Cookie Dough – Gooey, Sweet, and Seasoned with… Bacteria?!

Categories: Foodborne

3 magnetic beads about 5 microns in diameter.

The possibility that E. coli O157:H7 was a contaminant in cookie dough surprised even the most experienced microbiologists here in CDC’s Enteric Diseases Laboratory Branch. E. coli O157 is a common culprit of a severe diarrheal illness, usually caused by eating contaminated and undercooked ground beef or drinking unpasteurized apple juice. It shouldn’t have even been on the “Who’s Who” list of the top bacterial contaminants.

The First Step in Identifying a Foodborne Outbreak… PulseNet

Categories: Foodborne

Cluster of indistinguishable PFGE fingerprints linked to the cookie dough outbreak.

The road to last month’s cookie dough recall started when CDC scientists reviewed information collected through PulseNet, a national network of laboratories that perform DNA “fingerprinting” of foodborne bacteria like E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, and Listeria. These fingerprints are plugged into a database that CDC and its state partners routinely scan. I’m a PulseNet database manager at CDC and one of my jobs is to identify “clusters” – groups of illnesses that share the same fingerprint.

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