Opportunities for Mitigating Foodborne Illnesses Caused by Emerging and Persistent Infectious Agents

Regents Professor and Director, Center for Food Safety, University of Georgia


Foodborne illnesses caused by infectious agents are a major, global public health concern (e.g., a recent outbreak of E. coli O104 infection caused more than 50 deaths). The international food trade has grown exponentially during the past decade, especially from developing countries where sanitary practices are often subpar and foodborne pathogen contamination is prevalent. In many countries, antibiotics critical to human therapy are used indiscriminately in food production, resulting in the development of multiple antibiotic resistance in foodborne pathogens. In addition, many developing countries are the principal global providers of sensitive ingredients that are sources of harmful microbes. Two critical needs to enhance the safety of the global food supply are the development of: 1) rapid methods to sample foods and detect foodborne pathogens and 2) effective treatments to kill harmful microbes while retaining the fresh-like characteristics of raw foods. Opportunities for international policies to greatly influence the mitigation of foodborne disease outbreaks include: (i) widely implementing a global surveillance and outbreak investigation system, (ii) requiring the development and implementation, by the food industry, of comprehensive food safety plans, (iii) developing and implementing robust sampling procedures and rapid methods for detecting pathogens in sensitive food ingredients and ready-to-eat foods, and (iv) globally restricting the use of antibiotics, which are important to human therapy, in agricultural production.