In a  recent presentation, Martin Wiedmann of Cornell University discussed the positives and negatives of whole-genome sequencing (WGS) data sharing, saying that easy access to such data can sometimes lead companies and individuals to the wrong conclusions about the source of a foodborne outbreak.

Weidmann’s presentation was part of the Center for Produce Safety’s Session IV of its Research Symposium webinar series. Moderated by Senior Vice President of United Fresh Produce Association Jennifer McEntire, the session included research reports, research posters and a Q and A period. 

The featured presentation by Wiedmann, Ph.D., Gellert Family Professor of Food Safety at Cornell University, was titled, “Outbreaks: Past, Current, and Future with WGS Data.”

Wiedmann’s session focused on how WGS is being used by the FDA, CDC, FSIS and others to detect foodborne outbreaks. He stressed that identification and announcement of outbreaks without clear sources can lead to something he calls ‘WGS innuendo,’ which is coming to conclusions and making assumptions without the complete picture.

The ease and accessibility of data sharing of WGS have led to these innuendos. “Again this is something everyone can do, you don’t need a password, you don’t need permission,” Wiedmann said. 

Clear and accurate communication of WGS data is important because it can easily be misinterpreted and lead to the so-called innuendos.

Wiemann provided some action steps that industry can take:

  • Have someone in your company or affiliated with your company that knows how to utilize and search NCBI Pathogen Detection;
  • Set up alerts for WGS clusters of concern;
  • Have a plan for what to do when you get “the call” from FDA or CDC; and
  • Plan when, where and how you can utilize WGS data.

Research Reports

  • “Analysis of the presence of Cyclospora in waters of the Mid-Atlantic States and evaluation of removal and inactivation by filtration.”

Kalmia Kniel, Ph.D, Professor of Microbial Food Safety, University of Delaware.

Kniel’s research project has two main objectives, to provide an understanding of the impact of C. cayetanensis on waters in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, and elucidate the efficacy of ZVI filtration in the removal and inactivation of parasitic pathogens to improve pre-harvest food safety.

The full abstract can be viewed here.

  • “Illuminating the role of whole genome sequencing in produce safety.”

Kerry Cooper, Ph.D, Assistant Professor of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences, University of Arizona.

The goal of Cooper’s research is to determine the mutation rates of Salmonella, Listeria, and Escherichia coli O157:H7 during long-term persistence in agricultural soil and irrigation water maintained under different geographical conditions.

The full abstract can be viewed here.

  • “Investigation of potential pre-harvest and post-harvest treatments targeting Salmonella spp. risk reduction on peaches in Australia.” 

Kim-Yen Phan-Thien, Ph.D., Lecturer in Food Science, University of Sydney. 

Phan-Thien’s research was a rapid response to last year’s Salmonella outbreak linked to peaches in North America.

The full abstract can be viewed here.

  • “Environmental microbial risks associated with vented produce in distribution centers.” 

Laurel Dunn, Ph.D, Assistant Professor of Food Science & Technology, University of Georgia.

Food Safety News reported on this research in Dec. 2020.

This full abstract can be viewed here.

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