Researchers identify seasonal peaks for foodborne infections
A new analysis approach, developed by researchers at Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, could help identify when and where to conduct food safety inspections.
Every year, thousands of pounds of food are wasted and billions in food sales lost due to recalls linked to foodborne infections. Using a newly developed approach, researchers have identified seasonal peaks for foodborne infections that could be used to optimise the timing and location of food inspections.
“We rely upon food producers, distributors and retailers to keep food safe in fields, grocery stores and restaurants,” said Ryan B. Simpson, doctoral candidate at Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. “A lapse in food safety practices during any step in the food delivery and supply chain can jeopardise human health, waste food resources and threaten the national food economy.”
Foodborne infections can be caused by a variety of pathogens, such as Listeria, Salmonella and E. Coli and a single pathogen can lead to outbreaks that peak in different states/counties at different times. Knowing the patterns for each pathogen and state could be used to design an optimised schedule for food safety inspections, the researchers suggested.
To characterise the timing and intensity of infection peaks, Simpson and colleagues developed an analysis method that determined which specific pathogens are likely to cause an outbreak at a given time.
Using their new analysis method, the researchers found that although foodborne outbreaks typically peak in July, food recalls are typically delayed by one to two months, peaking from mid-August through mid-September. These findings were said to be consistent across examined states and pathogens.
Next, the researchers said they aim to refine their analysis method by exploring specific foods and food groups linked to foodborne outbreaks. They also plan to examine relationships between outbreaks for particular pathogens with food preparation practices and other factors.
“Our future research will provide valuable information that could help refine existing food safety policies while also aiding food producers, distributors and retailers in preventing or mitigating foodborne outbreaks,” said Simpson.