On September 22, 2017, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced its intention to host a public meeting in October to discuss overall federal food safety agency practices as well as plans for collecting and analyzing whole genome sequence (WGS) data of bacteria isolated from official samples, including the state of the science and other issues surrounding use of this technology. Additionally, at the October public meeting, FSIS intends to discuss the agency’s recent experience in using WGS as well as its intention to expand its use in the future.

We have written about WGS in a prior Well Done post concerning use of the technology by federal and state officials in an investigation related to an E. coli outbreak. Unlike other analytical methods, such as pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), WGS analyses can determine sequence relatedness between bacterial isolates with higher resolution. In practical terms this means that public health officials have a new tool at their disposal that has the potential to more quickly define the scope of a foodborne illness outbreak, and ideally, to prevent additional illnesses during outbreaks.

As previously mentioned, the increased precision of WGS may also provide the regulated community with a lower risk of being falsely identified as the source of a given outbreak. But as in most circumstances that involve the exercise of regulatory discretion, the devil is in the details, and thus, the October public meeting should provide helpful information for those in the regulated community in understanding what this new technology means for them.

The meeting will be held October 26–27, 2017 at the Jefferson Auditorium in the South Building, US Department of Agriculture (USDA), 1400 Independence Avenue SW., Washington, DC 20250. For registration information and meeting materials, please visit the FSIS’s Meetings and Events page.