Will a Comprehensive Global Source Attribution System Provide for Cost-Effective Food Safety?

Professor, Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, College of Veterinary Medicine, and Adjunct Professor, Department of Agriculture and Consumer Economics, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois


We are in a globalization era that includes increased demands for food and food safety (FS). Food chains are comprised of complex networks of people and companies, as well as the movement of raw ingredients and food components. In the United States, PulseNet already creates a genetic fingerprint of organisms suspected to cause foodborne illness; however, the source of most outbreaks is never identified. It is unclear how much of this FS challenge can be rectified by a surveillance system that is deeper (i.e., has a more thorough collection of data), more general (i.e., collects data across a wider range of production systems), and adds data from different sources (e.g., from animal, animal feeds, and food sampling). While more research is needed, a focus on infrastructure improvements will result in the largest marginal benefit to FS, with higher cost effectiveness than a global surveillance system. The Actionable Next Steps emerging from ISGP conferences focus primarily on improving global surveillance. This focus needs to be balanced against, and possibly superseded by, considerations related to infrastructure improvements and FS prevention. Most importantly, Actionable Next Steps to prevent and mitigate foodborne illness should include a focus on the preventive components of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the most extensive reform of the U.S. food safety laws in 70 years.