Inspection and Investigation: Tools for Detecting Sources of Food Contamination and Preventing Illness Outbreaks

George J. Jackson

Former Dean of the Staff College,

Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition,

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Abstract Regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration use trained inspectors to monitor the hygienic status of the food supply and of the food production and distribution environments. Inspectors may take samples for laboratory analysis. Investigations are undertaken when standard inspection and analysis do not solve such problems as food contamination or illness outbreaks from unknown sources. These investigations are conducted by teams that may include inspectors, laboratory analysts, and epidemiologists.

Described in detail are two investigations: a food-associated illness outbreak caused by the bacterium Yersinia enterocolitica from an unexpected source and a series of illness outbreaks caused by the parasitic protozoa Cyclospora cayetanensisthat was difficult to detect in food. Investigators must consider that food can become contaminated at all its steps from farmland or fishing waters to the consumer’s fork.

There are at least two generalities to remember when discussing microbial foodborne illness. Experience has taught us that there is no strict distinction between so-called foodborne pathogens that infect by way of the alimentary canal and so-called waterborne pathogens that infect the consumer by that route. Although a pathogen’s prevalence may differ in water and in food, it may also differ in different types of food. Generally, a waterborne pathogen will ultimately finds its way into food.

A foodborne pathogen is usually easier to detect in an ill patient than in the contaminated food that caused the illness. In food the pathogen tends to be few in number, and in a dormant or even injured state, whereas there are likely to be



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