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Reuters reports that as part of its broader effort to combat foodborne illness, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working "to map out the exact DNA sequence of strains of Listeria, Salmonella and other ... pathogens found in sick patients." As part of this effort, FDA is calling on manufacturers "to contribute samples of pathogens found during their own plant inspections. Some contamination is common in food plants. When it is found in the manufacturing facility, but not in food products, companies generally are required only to clean it up without recalling products.

"But eliminating pathogens is tough, and convincing companies to offer up potentially incriminating evidence has been a hard sell, according to interviews with public health officials, food manufacturers and experts on recalls."

This is important, the story says, because "the FDA is building a network of state and federal labs equipped to map out the exact DNA sequence of strains of Listeria, Salmonella and other foodborne pathogens found in sick patients. These sequences are then uploaded to a public database housed at the National Institutes of Health. The technology can not only differentiate a pathogen from multiple related species, but can also show slight mutations within the same strain.

"At the same time, the FDA has begun sequencing pathogens found during routine plant inspections and adding those to the database. One benefit of that, they say, is being able to quickly connect patients within an outbreak. Another is the potential to identify the source of an outbreak after just a few patients fall ill, shortening the time it takes to get tainted food off store shelves."
KC's View:
While in some ways it is understandable if companies are reticent about handing over this sort of information, I do think that the broader public interest should be served ... and that, in the end, it will be better for consumers, which will be better for food industry companies, if there is total and complete transparency. Besides, if they resist, it is possible that they could be compelled to provide this kind of data, and it is always better to volunteer.

Remember - the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) estimates that only about 40 percent of foodborne illness outbreaks are even reported. There's no excuse for companies not to be totally transparent.

I'm glad to see that the FDA and various partners are trying to figure out ways for companies to provide information without putting themselves in jeopardy. Wouldn't it be nice if we actually could see this work out in everybody's best interests?