Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researchers have called for rapid tracing of food source contamination to reduce illness and save lives. Casey Barton Behravesh, et al., “2008 Outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul Infections Associated with Raw Produce,” The New England Journal of Medicine, February 2011. Investigating the 2008 Salmonella outbreak first blamed on American tomatoes but later pinpointed to Mexican peppers, researchers concluded that the outbreak—linked to approximately1,500 illnesses and two deaths—“highlights the importance of preventing rawproduce contamination.”

The report calls for (i) product-tracing systems improvements, including the “ability of the systems to work together for more rapid tracing of implicated products through the supply chain in order to maximize public health protection and minimize the economic burden to industry”; (ii) “an understanding of the mechanisms and ecologies that can lead to contamination of produce on farms”; and (iii) “the institution of additional control measures from the source throughout the supply chain [which] are critical for preventing similar outbreaks in the future.”

“This outbreak investigation highlights the recurring challenges of epidemiologic identification of ingredients in foods that are commonly consumed, rapid identification and investigation of local clusters, the need to continue exploring hypotheses during an ongoing outbreak, and produce tracing in the supply chain,” the authors wrote. “Traceback issues such as commingling, repacking, varying degrees of product documentation throughout the supply chain, difficulty in linking incoming with outgoing shipments to the next level in the distribution chain, and the complexity of the distribution chain continue to hinder product-tracing efforts.”

A companion editorial applauds the new Food Safety Modernization Act as legislation that “brings long overdue modernization” to the Food and Drug Administration’s food-safety authority, but claims the law “has a major shortcoming: dollars.”