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Pew recommends improvements to salmonella detection and response protocols

image: USDA photo by Stephen Ausmus via Flickr

When most consumers hear the words salmonella outbreak, they try to avoid the potentially tainted food products like the plague.

But unfortunately, by the time the public hears about an outbreak the questions become: how long has the bacteria been spreading? What steps have been taken to stop it?

These are reasonable concerns; concerns Pew Charitable Trust addressed in its recent response to the 2011 salmonella outbreak from Cargill Meat Solutions ground turkey.

The Pew report, which was reviewed by Craig Hedberg, Ph.D., Division of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, made three general recommendations for improving salmonella outbreak detection and response.

  1. Federal and state officials should make detecting and responding to salmonella outbreaks a priority by enhancing the surveillance system so that:
    1. Clinical labs are required to submit their salmonella isolates to public health laboratories.
    2. Public health officials can interview patients as soon as cases start being reported.
  2. The FDA should require that the brand, processing plant, and purchase date for     contaminated meat and poultry samples are included when information is shared.
  3. A plan must be set in place to communicate with food companies in the early stages of an outbreak investigation when company information such as production schedules and distribution patterns could speed up the identification of contaminated foods.

“The CDC believes there are over a million cases of salmonella a year, yet only 40,000 cases are reported,” said Hedberg. “Every person who gets infected should get interviewed, but that isn’t happening and identifying the source takes longer than it should.”

Pew’s recommendations for improving surveillance would target key points in outbreak investigations where existing policies and practices result in unnecessary delays and preventable illnesses.

Implementing Pew’s recommendations would mean a shift in how public health works within the healthcare system.

“There may not be a direct benefit to a specific infected patient, but the information gathered from that patient could prevent further infections,” said Hedberg.

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