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The name might be funny, but the work of Team Diarrhea is pretty serious stuff

Photo: Nathan Reading via Flickr

Picture of salmonella species growing

Of the numerous student groups at the University of Minnesota, the affectionately named Team Diarrhea (Team D) is much more than an extracurricular student group.  Unless other extracurricular student groups can claim to have likely saved lives in the course of their activities, that is.

Team D – a group of paid student public health detectives that launched in 1996 – has made national headlines over the past several years for identifying the source of two major Salmonella outbreaks, potentially saving lives in the process.  They’ve also worked on a number of other foodborne illness outbreaks of varying magnitude.

Now, the group is receiving even more recognition from one of their biggest fans: U.S. Senator Amy Klobachar.

Last week, Klobuchar partnered with the Minnesota Department of Health and the University of Minnesota to announce that the Minnesota Department of Health, in partnership with the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, has been selected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create a Food Safety Center of Excellence to help prevent and respond to foodborne illnesses across the state and beyond.

The Center will provide resources for state and local officials to improve food safety through better detection and investigation of outbreaks of foodborne illness. Klobuchar authored the bipartisan provision, passed into law as part of a larger bill that established Food Safety Centers for Excellence and pushed to ensure they were implemented.

Team D isn’t new to recognition from Klobuchar. She introduced “The Food Safety Rapid Response Act of 2009,” at the School of Public Health and mentioned at that time that she would like to see this successful model become national policy across the country.

It looks like now her wish has come true.

“Minnesota has been a leader in the effort to improve food safety, and today’s announcement means that our state will continue to be on front lines in the fight to keep consumers safe,” Klobuchar said. “Ensuring a rapid response to outbreaks of contaminated food is critical to maintaining public trust in our food supply, and I will continue to work to improve the security of the food on our tables.”

The Minnesota Model for Food Safety is based on rapid tracking of foodborne illness occurrences and quick investigative work, the plan of action stands out as the paradigm methodology for stopping the spread of food-borne illnesses. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) employs the Team D students who work under the direction of its epidemiologists, many of whom are SPH adjunct faculty member.

According to Carlota Medus, Ph.D., a University of Minnesota adjunct professor, SPH alum and state epidemiologist who works with Team D, each case of salmonella and E. coli is considered the first case of a yet unidentified outbreak. The Minnesota Model for Food Safety takes steps to ensure victims, hospitals and the state department all work in conjunction to find the root of the source, which will be shared through the new Centers.

“Because outbreak investigations are the only way to identify new food safety hazards, the Centers will have an important role to play in rapidly identifying and effectively responding to these new threats,” said Craig Hedberg, Ph.D., University of Minnesota School of Public Health Professor in the Division of Environmental Health Sciences.