2018 has definitely been a whirlwind year in the world of food safety news, as it appears that new food poisoning outbreaks have been making headlines almost every other week. It’s caused some concern that perhaps outbreaks are increasing, which could mean that our food supply is less safe.
That’s likely not the case, though, as the actual amount of outbreaks doesn’t seem to be changing. The FDA is just getting a lot better at catching them.
Since President Barack Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act in 2011, the FDA has mobilized into more of a proactive body that’s been trying to snuff out food poisonings as early as they can. That has led to an increase in technology at the disposal of the food agency, and they’ve been using it to better identify potential nationwide outbreaks.
This technology, better known as whole genome sequencing (WGS), lets FDA and CDC officials identify outbreaks as they are starting to happen on a national scale. WGS keeps tabs on the DNA of specific species and subspecies of bacteria. As people get sick, samples are collected to identify these pathogens, which are then uploaded to the WGS database. Monitors can then pinpoint these microbes and track them across the entire nation. Thus, if two people in different parts of the country get sick from the same food and bacteria, the FDA and CDC can see that and determine that an outbreak is happening.