Foodborne illness outbreaks rarely traced to source, OFPA conference told
By Dave Edmark
U of A System Division of Agriculture
April 11, 2016
· Whole genome sequencing hailed as cause of significant advancements in science
· Direct links to source of contamination still difficult to find
SPRINGDALE, Ark. – There’s usually no good news when a foodborne illness outbreak is reported, but one food scientist sees some silver lining: “Outbreaks are rare events, and by the time they happen everything that could go wrong has already gone wrong.”
Mansour Samadpour, president of IEH Laboratories and Consulting Group, offered that optimism April 6 at the Ozark Food Processors Association’s 110th annual convention and exposition. In a review of ways to detect outbreaks, Samadpour said less than 1 percent of them are ever linked to a source. “It’s extremely rare for the public health system to connect a company to an outbreak.”
Direct evidence linking an outbreak to a source exists when health officials can isolate a pathogen with the genetic fingerprints that exactly match the contaminated product or the data gathered in an environmental sampling at a suspected processing plant, he said. Circumstantial evidence of a link exists when genetically related, but not identical, isolates are found on the product or in the plant.
Detection of outbreaks often begins when consumers who’ve been sickened by contaminated food seek medical care and their culture-confirmed cases are reported to the health department. Samadpour said the cultures are then subjected to pulsed-field gel electrophoresis – PFGE, a lab technique to produce a DNA fingerprint of a bacterial isolate – or whole genome sequencing, a process that reveals an organism’s complete DNA. In rare instances, epidemiologists can connect this information to a food item from a cluster of cases.
“Whole genome sequencing is a tool to advance significantly epidemiological investigations,” Samadpour said. “WGS is causing tremendous advancements in science.”
The convention also featured a review of the federal Food Safety Modernization Act that was passed in 2010. Patrick Pimentel, technical services manager at NSF International, described the measure as the first update of the original Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act of 1938. He said the law is oriented toward prevention of foodborne illnesses in response to several recent developments, including increased imports from globalization, complex supply chains, new emerging pathogens, food-related recalls and improving epidemiology.
The convention began with the annual business meeting for reports on the status of OFPA.
Jean-Francois Meullenet, head of the Department of Food Science at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, welcomed the group and thanked OFPA for its partnership with the department, dating back to Food Science’s founding in 1968. “OFPA has had the trademark of being very student centered,” Meullenet said, noting its sponsorship of student scholarships and competition events and that many of the department’s alumni have had careers with OFPA member companies.
Afternoon workshops included training for corporate writing skills by consultant Kristen Kastrup and a session on how to create a clean label and achieve sodium reduction during product development by Michael Bunn of Sam’s Club and Susan Brunjes of Nikken Foods USA.
The OFPA convention opened April 5 with its annual golf tournament held at Shadow Valley Country Club in Rogers. More than 44 golfers played in the event with proceeds benefiting the OFPA scholarship fund. Scholarships sponsored by OFPA and its members were awarded to five students from the UA Food Science Department. Eight students participated in a scientific poster competition. The convention had 25 exhibitors and more than 130 attendees. OFPA limited the number of exhibitors this year so that exhibitors could present one-minute “flash” talks to the attendees to describe the products and services offered by their companies.
For more information about the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s food science programs, visit https://food-science.uark.edu/.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
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Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service