How DNA barcoding can prevent foodborne illness outbreaks


In 2012, when several hundred people fell ill in the U.S. amid a salmonella outbreak, the Food and Drug Administration was quickly able to isolate the exact strain of salmonella that had found its way into the contaminated sushi-grade tuna — and then trace it to the exact processing plant where the fish originated in India. (Not surprisingly, the FDA found 10 sanitation oversights, four of which were considered egregious.)

Then in 2014, the FDA managed to prevent a listeria outbreak from going beyond seven illnesses and one death when it traced the strain of the pathogen to soft cheeses manufactured by Ross Foods, which has since been shut down.

Both findings are thanks to DNA sequencing, which is helping not only to identify which species of animals we might be eating, but even which strains of foodborne pathogens might be present in our food.

The implications are broad. Knowing…

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