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Tracing the Bugs

Genetic analyses are helping the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigate foodborne illnesses, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The agency began using gene-sequencing approaches to study illness-linked listeria samples in 2013, the Journal adds, noting that it has since expanded its sequencing efforts to encompass additional infectious agents. This, it says, has helped the agency uncover additional cases of foodborne pathogens as well as detect outbreaks earlier and link cases that, on the surface, appear to be separate. For instance, the agency found two outbreaks affecting romaine lettuce and ground beef were caused by the same strain as outbreaks from the previous year, suggesting the pathogens persist at factories and farms.

The analyses are also applying pressure on food producers to ensure their products are safe, the Journal says. It notes that after Kellogg's Honey Smacks cereal was linked to a Salmonella outbreak, Kellogg had to permanently end cereal production at a facility because of the high amount of Salmonella there.