Stopping Foodborne Outbreaks Early

In Canada, consumption of contaminated food causes 4 million illnesses, over 14,000 hospitalizations, and more than 300 deaths each year, with an estimated annual economic burden of approximately $4 billion.

A major impediment to identifying contaminated food is that current surveillance methods rely on sick people to seek medical help instead of public health mechanisms detecting foodborne outbreaks.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the University of Guelph, and Université Laval, are developing a novel, integrated approach to improved foodborne outbreak detection, beginning with genomic detection of foodborne pathogens in raw sewage and monitoring of social media for keywords associated with enteric illness.

The tools, methods, and datasets generated through this project will be translated for downstream operational use into the network of Canadian foodborne surveillance programs through collaborations between PHAC and its federal, provincial, and territorial partners.

Implementation will reduce the number of illnesses and hospitalizations and increase economic savings due to decreased food recalls through faster detection of outbreaks. Another advantage is that this project can be scaled-up for rapid detection of other pathogens and is currently being utilized to monitor levels of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in wastewater, as an early indicator of changing case numbers before clinical presentation.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we are seeing increasing emergence of variants of concern (VOCs) and variants of interest (VOIs) which threaten the health and wellbeing of Canadians. The funding provided by Ontario Genomics and Genome Canada is helping my team to develop a genomics-based surveillance platform based on analysis of wastewater, providing a customizable tool for use in controlling the spread of infectious diseases, whether they be food or waterborne, or respiratory borne like COVID-19.”

– Dr. Lawrence Goodridge, Director at Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety, University of Guelph.

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