2016's Top 5 News Stories for Food-borne Infection and Food Safety


We’ve put together the top five biggest news stories regarding food-borne illnesses this year. Did you see them all?

Although preventable, food-borne illnesses remain a public health problem, accounting for 48 million individuals falling ill and 3,000 deaths each year in the United States. One in 6 Americans acquire these diseases by consuming food or beverages that have been contaminated by harmful pathogens or microbes. Throughout this past year, a number of outbreaks have sparked up around the country and health officials everywhere have put their efforts into quelling them. Efforts have also been made to strengthen food safety practices so that these food-borne illnesses might be avoided entirely, thus, saving countless people from falling ill as well as a significant amount of money in related costs.

Although much has happened this year in the realm of food-borne illnesses, the following news articles were Contagion’s top 5 news stories of 2016:


A number of universities and cruise lines were hit hard by norovirus outbreaks this year, with the number of infected individuals reaching the thousands. Due to the fact that these viruses tend to spread fastest in closed areas, it’s not surprising that a majority of these outbreaks occurred in universities and schools. Norovirus spread like wildfire throughout Lafayette College (PA), Miami University of Ohio (OH), University of Michigan (MI), Michigan State University’s Kellogg Center (MI), Ursinus College (PA), University of California-Berkeley (CA), University of Regina-Saskatchewan (Canada), Tri County Public Schools (MI), Washington Oak Elementary School (RI), and Oregon State University (OR). In addition, a number of cruises were cut short due to norovirus infection, among those affected were Carnival Sunshine of Carnival Cruise Line, Anthem of the Seas of Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and Norwegian Gem of Norwegian Cruise Line. In response, cleaning and disinfection practices were increased and a number of initiatives were made to prevent further infection. With norovirus being a common cause of food-borne illnesses each year, preventive measures and outbreak response plans are crucial to avoiding these highly contagious infections.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) teamed up with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in response to a Salmonella Muenchen outbreak that managed to cross state lines. The cause of the outbreak? Both the CDC and FDA cited alfalfa sprouts from a privately held company, Sweetwater Farms, located in Inman, Kansas, as the likely culprit behind the bout of infections. Eventually, the outbreak managed to reach 12 states and infect 25 individuals, with eight requiring hospitalization. On May 13, 2016, the CDC reported that the outbreak appeared to be over. According to the CDC, “FDA has provided sprouters with information on reducing microbial food safety hazards for sprouted seeds and complying with new standards of growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of produce for human consumption under the Product Safety Rules, which begins to go into effect for sprouters in January 2017.”


Due to doubts over the safety and effectiveness of over-the-counter antiseptic washes, the FDA declared that antiseptic washes containing certain 19 active ingredients cannot be marketed any longer, among these ingredients were triclosan and triclocarban, two of the ones that were most commonly used in such washes. The reason behind their ruling was data finding that long-term exposure to said ingredients used in these antibacterial washes could actually be harmful, causing “bacterial resistance or hormonal effects.” When it comes to food safety, proper hand hygiene is essential to preventing food-borne pathogens such as Escherichia coli and norovirus. With the market phase-out of antibacterial products, health experts continue to stress the importance of washing hands with soap and water before, during, and after preparing food as well as before consumption. The CDC has specific recommendations for handwashing available on their website.


Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii and infection occurs by ingesting meat—particularly pork, venison, and lamb—that is undercooked and contaminated. People can also get it from drinking water that has been contaminated with the parasite or eating food that has been prepared by utensils that had become contaminated due to contact with contaminated meat. Though the immune systems in most healthy individuals are able to keep the parasite from causing illness, it can cause severe health complications in immunocompromised individuals and pregnant women. At $750 per pill, the treatment for this infection—Daraprim—is pretty costly for Americans. However, Australian high school students have found a way to manufacture it for a significantly lower price: $5.


Despite the fact that norovirus causes about 20 million cases of acute gastroenteritis annually in the US, there is not a good wealth of research available on how norovirus actually works. In a study published in the journal Science, researchers sought to identify the host factors required for norovirus infection. Researchers have been unable to grow norovirus in human cells in the lab, so for this study, researchers studied mice that had been infected with a strain of mouse norovirus, one that has a very similar genome to that of human norovirus. Using CRISPR-Cas9, researchers identified mouse genes that were crucial to mouse noroviral infection. They found host molecules that were essential to causing cell death in mouse norovirus, including CD300lf, a proteinaceous receptor that plays a role in how norovirus binds and replicates in cell lines as well as primary cells of mice. They also found that Cd300lf-/-mice are resistant to the infection. Using CRISPR-Cas9, the researchers eliminated the CD300lf gene and found that norovirus could not infect the cells. In addition, they found that CD300lf expression in human cells breaks a species barrier; they were able to get mouse norovirus to infect and replicate in human cells by introducing CD300lf to human cells. Though the discovery of CD300lf is a big success, future studies will need to be conducted to add to the arsenal of knowledge regarding norovirus and how to stop it.

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