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E. coli Outbreak: What Have We Learned Since 1993?

MAY 26, 2017 | BRIAN P. DUNLEAVY
“The outbreak drove a shift in food safety that the CDC had been working toward for years,” noted Dr. Griffin during the event. This shift included new standards for proper handling and cooking of food eventually enacted by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the aftermath of the outbreak, as well as several CDC initiatives. “And it was a mandate for improved [food-borne disease] surveillance throughout the United States,” she added.
 
As cases related to 0157 were identified in San Diego County, California and Las Vegas, Nevada later in January 1993, CDC scientists were able to trace the source of the pathogen to a single lot of 255,000 pounds of beef produced in November 1992. The subsequent voluntary recall of beef supplies initiated by Jack-in-the-Box at the CDC’s urging on January 18, 1993 prevented more than 800 additional cases, the agency’s research suggests. It is worth noting that the CDC believes that the fast-food chain was “cooperative” in the aftermath of the outbreak, and that it was recognized with the Black Pearl Award for food safety, as a result of changes it instituted at the time, in 2004.
 
As tragic as the outbreak was for those who were affected, it did lead to important innovations in food safety and outbreak response. In addition to the new standards imposed by the FDA and USDA, the CDC launched 2 new programs as a result of the outbreak: FoodNet, the Food-Borne Diseases Active Surveillance Network launched in 1995 to assist in the identification of outbreaks of Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, Cyclospora, Listeria, Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O157 and non-O157, Shigella, Vibrio, and Yersinia infections, and PulseNet, a lab network designed to detect food-borne illnesses and link them to possible outbreaks, which was launched in 1996. However, despite the importance of these “big picture” projects, Dr. Bell told the audience that the 1993 outbreak also served as a reminder of the importance of vigilance and proactive response at the grassroots level.
 
“All public health is local,” she said. “All of us at CDC know that we need strong state and local public health [departments] to do our work.”
 
Brian P. Dunleavy is a medical writer and editor based in New York. His work has appeared in numerous healthcare-related publications. He is the former editor of Infectious Disease Special Edition. 
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