Thursday, March 17, 2016

Germ sleuths work to head off foodborne illness

Everyone hears about Chipotle and other high-profile food poisoning cases, but you never hear about the 276,000 cases headed off by PulseNet, a 20-yr-old network coordinated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The averted illnesses save the country $507 million a year in medical bills and lost productivity. PulseNet itself costs $7.3 million.

PulseNet has also created a climate encouraging better business practices. Companies now self-police more.

PulseNet's technique is to use DNA  to link illnesses that may have a shared cause but pop up in different places--say from tainted lettuce. This can lead to timely recalls and local action.

Each year, it identifies 1,750 clusters of illness, 250 of which span multiple states.

Targeted for the most part are Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli.

I thought the $507 million (with an M) sounded low. The researchers say it's hard to say how many illnesses are prevented because of better business practices.

Their calculations probably underestimate the value of PulseNet, they added.

I had food poisoning several times--and ANYTHING they can do to prevent it is good. You may not die--but you might want to.

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