New Scientific Method Sources Food-Borne Pathogens

Scientists have created a new technique that will find the source of food-borne pathogens faster.
October 6, 2020

Canadian food businesses must ensure that the food they serve is safe for customers to consume. Food-borne illness is a serious health issue for thousands of Canadians every year, especially for those in high-risk groups. Once a food-borne illness outbreak has been identified, determining the source of the outbreak and the food-borne pathogens is essential. Recently, a team of scientists at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland made a significant development in identifying the source of food-borne illness through a new technique.

What is the new technique?

The technique is based on a new machine learning method called the Minimal Multilocus Distance (MMD) method. This method is used to train a computer to identify likely sources of food-borne illness with a high rate of accuracy. It has been demonstrated to link human cases of food-borne illness back to sources such as chicken, cows and sheep. The benefit of this technique is that identifying the source of food-borne pathogens quickly is essential during a food-borne illness outbreak.

Francisco Perez Reche and professor Norval Strachan who are from Aberdeen’s departments of Physics and Biological Sciences led the study. Perez Reche states that “Our MMD method trains the computer to identify likely sources of origin of a Campylobacter infection within seconds,” which is a significant advancement from other methods which are less targeted or take days to perform.

How does the technique work?

The technique works by utilizing the advances in Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS). These advances are significant as they allow for the complete DNA sequence of an organism’s genome to be obtained at a single time. For example, the researchers illustrated that the source of Campylobacter could be accurately identified in a short timeframe. Whole genome sequenced Campylobacter was obtained out of 500 human patients and 673 food and animal sources, including 150 from cattle, sheep and chicken, 130 from pig and 93 from wild birds.

These results illustrate how the technique can accurately identify food borne pathogens such as Campylobacter which can assist in stopping the spread of food-borne illness outbreaks.

Protecting the health of Canadians

Canadian food businesses must ensure the food they prepare and serve to customers is safe to eat in order to keep customers healthy and reduce incidents of food-borne illness outbreaks. While food businesses are required to follow and implement food safety protocols, food-borne illness incidents and outbreaks still happen. This is why this new technique is welcomed news for the food industry. Developments in the identification of the source of food-borne pathogens is good news for food businesses and Canadian customers, as it will help tackle food-borne illness quickly and keep people safe.

The Canadian Institute of Food Safety will continue to provide food safety news and industry updates as they become available.