Food Safety Is Paramount In California Agriculture

Researchers Hone in on Bacteria Genome to Isolate Pathogens

By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor

Food safety is paramount in the specialty crop farm industry; but when a bacterium causes a food safety problem, there is important work to determine the exact fingerprint of that bacteria.

Matthew Stasiewicz, assistant professor of applied food microbiology in the area of food safety at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition, said it’s important to determine the genome of these bacteria that are causing problems.

“The biggest thing that has happened in the field of food safety is that the U.S. government has committed to using whole genome sequencing as a primary public health surveillance tool. So, if you have a foodborne disease and go to a doctor, and they isolate that organism, it will go into a nationwide database—now international database—that can link that organism’s genome sequence to whatever else shows up in the database. So, at the same time, if pathogens are isolated from foods potentially as part of an outbreak, those sequences can be [entered into the database] and [experts can] gather information from food sources as well as clinical patients. And that’s just a major tool.”

Stasiewicz said the genome is important because we need to know the true source of that bacteria. “The pathogens that can make you sick can be distributed in the environment.

So just because you potentially got sick from eating food and maybe you got an E.coli O157:H7 infection in your hometown, even if someone else two towns away got the same infection with E.coli O157:H7, we don’t know if that’s related, even if you potentially ate the same food,” Stasiewicz said. “That could come from the soil in your town, your local grower, a local grower somewhere else, or from a common source, common grower, or common packer, and gotten you both sick. This genome sequence information allows us to make those links much more clearly.”

Stasiewicz said this is an important pioneering effort to reduce food safety illnesses. “Importantly, from the food standpoint,” Stasiewicz said, “we want that information so we can find that and eliminate it. No food processor wants to make anyone sick. No grower wants to make anyone sick. So, we need to identify those concerns.”

Avian Influenza Mapping Plan to Prevent CA Outbreaks

High Pathogenic Avian Influenza Mapping Plan (HPAI) to Prevent Outbreaks in California

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

In 2014 and 2015, the outbreak of High Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) caused unprecedented damage to the mid-western commercial poultry industry, requiring the depopulation of 48 million birds, particularly turkeys and laying hens. There were isolated cases in last autumn in California as well. Migrating birds, generally considered to be the source of HPAI, move throughout the state in their flyways this time of year.

USDA Pacific Flyway Map
USDA Pacific Flyway Map

Maurice Pitesky, a UC Cooperative Extension population health & reproduction assistant specialist with an appointment in poultry health and food safety, emphasized the importance of the flyways, “These global flyways that waterfowl use to move north and south and back again every single year are like freeways. And in those freeway lanes, different birds interface with each other.  So, we might have a Pacific flyway that covers California, but that Pacific flyway can interface with the East Asian and Australian flyway in the Northern Arctic. If you look at the genetics of the strains that were found in North America, especially in California, the genetics match some of the HPAI found in South Korea for example,” Pitesky said.

The Avian Influenza Mapping Plan is like overlaying maps of birds’ flying patterns for an early warning system for commercial operations. Pitesky observed, “We’re really just scratching the surface in how we can utilize maps with respect to surveillance and risk-mapping. For example, if I can locate on a map, where waterfowl, flooded rice fields, or wet fields are, and I can also determine where commercial poultry operations are, then I can start understanding which operations are at highest risk.”

I can triage my focus, outreach, and biosecurity efforts to those farms that are most closely located.

“New techniques are available so our national network of weather radar can actually be leveraged, and that data can be utilized remotely to understand in real time where waterfowl are hanging out. Eventually we can use that information to warn farmers in real time if there are migrating waterfowl near their farm,” he said.