Unsolved Foodborne Problems

As new foodborne problems emerge, several questions need to be answered before the problem can be successfully controlled. It takes careful scientific observation and research to answer these questions. Some pressing unanswered questions include:
  • How do the foodborne pathogens spread among the animals themselves, and how can this be prevented? This includes E coli O157: H7 among cattle, Salmonella Enteritis among egg-laying hens, and Campylobacter in broiler chickens. If we could prevent the animals from becoming infected in the first place, we would not have as much illness in the humans who eat them.
  • What is the microbial cause of outbreaks in which no pathogen can be identified by current methods? This is true for over half of the reported foodborne outbreaks. Will wider application of existing experimental diagnostic methods help, or are these outbreaks caused by pathogens we simply do not yet know how to identify?
  • What would be the impact of basic food safety education of restaurant workers on the risk of foodborne disease among restaurant patrons?
  • How can the food and water that animals consume be made safer?
  • How can we dispose of animal manure usefully, without threatening the food supply and the environment?
  • How can basic food safety principles be most effectively taught to school children?
  • How can we be sure food safety standards in other countries are as good as those in the United States? As we import more of our fresh foods from other countries, we need to be confident that they are produced with the same level of safety as food in the United States.
  • What control strategies in the slaughter plant will reduce the contamination of poultry meat with Campylobacter?
  • How can irradiation pasteurization of certain high risk foods, such as ground beef, be used most effectively?
  • How do raspberries in Central America get contaminated with Cyclospora in the first place? Does this parasite have an animal reservoir?
  • How can alfalfa sprouts and other raw sprouts be produced safely? Sprouts are unique among foods in that the conditions for sprouting are also perfect for bacterial growth, and they are not cooked after that.

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