Monday, June 18, 2012

MDP Might Be Discontinued, but New Salmonella Research Brings New Insight

The federation of State Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG) is up in arms over federal plans to cut the Agriculture Department's whole budget of $5 million for the Microbiological Data Program (MDG), effectively eliminating the nation’s largest produce testing program. According to PIRG, MDG is responsible for screening high-risk fresh produce for pathogens such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, conducting about 15,000 random tests a year.

Although many restaurant owners have made a valuable contribution to food safety by making a food handler certification or a food safety certification an employment requirement, the food-supply chain has many stops and foodborne pathogens can enter the chain at any of them. MDG attempts to arrest the entry of pathogens in the middle of the chain.

PIRG’s alarm comes on the heels of Dole’s recent recall of some 800 bags of lettuce after Salmonella was discovered by MDG during random sampling in New York, one of 11 states that host produce distribution centers from which samples are collected to gather data on E. coli (STEC), E. coli O157:H7 and other pathogens.

"Cutting this program will leave public health officials without a crucial tool used to investigate deadly foodborne illnesses in fresh produce leaving inspections in the hands of produce producers. Is this really conducive to keeping consumers safe?" asked Nasima Hossain, a U.S. PIRG public health advocate. "In view of the accelerated increase in foodborne illnesses linked to fresh produce, and this latest recall of bagged lettuce, we think the USDA should reconsider cutting this program which is thoughtless and will leave the public increasingly in more danger."

MDP was launched under President Bush's 2001 Food Safety Initiative. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to suffer from Salmonella infections, which has increased 10 percent in recent years, accounting for about a million people across the country falling ill from the pathogen every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Salmonella infections represent nearly half of the hospitalizations and deaths among the nine foodborne illnesses that CDC monitors.

The CDC says the bacterium, which exists as several harmful and dangerous subtypes, causes some $365 million in direct medical costs every year in the U.S., and a staggering $14.6 billion annually in efforts to keep it out of the food-supply chain.

Now, an international team of researchers has taken a big step toward taming Salmonella infections. Led by University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) researchers Michael Mahan and Douglas Heithoff, the team has successfully identified certain hypervirulent subtypes of Salmonella and believes that the feat represents a first step toward preventing food poisoning outbreaks caused by the pathogen.

The UCSB researchers reported finding 14 hypervirulent subtypes and discovering the powerfully infectious strains were restricted to certain serotypes. The scientists said they are now developing protocols to quickly detect the most dangerous strains and, ultimately, to come up with therapies to combat them.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...