Investigating, localizing salmonella outbreak

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

As some of you may have noticed, there’s an egg recall going on. It all began when the CDC’s PulseNet monitoring program noticed a fourfold jump in the number of salmonella cases being reported, which spurred investigations around the country. This jump is evident in the graph below. Don’t be fooled by the dropoff at the end, it has more to do with the reporting process than with an actual decrease in the number of salmonella cases (which clearly isn’t happening).

Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Health officials then traced it all back to a man outlets love to describe as a sort of rogue Iowa egg magnate and his Wright Country Eggs (satellite view?).

As we stand now, the tainted eggs could have been distributed through any number of channels, but constitute a tiny fraction of the national egg supply.

For reporters digging into this national recall story, or looking to localize it to their coverage area, AHCJ has a strong archive of foodborne illness resources.

Start with a classic, the AHCJ article “Fatal Food: A study of illness outbreaks ,” in which Thomas Hargrove details SHNS’ massive investigation into the nation’s food safety monitoring system. Not only is Hargrove’s how-to instructive, his actual findings are useful examinations of state and local food safety systems around the country.

For your own investigation, look at Mining NLM databases: PubMed, Medline and more and the rich set of resources in the sidebar to Hargrove’s story.

If you’re looking for solid numbers and the most up-to-date national context, see Covering Health’s recent post on the CDC’s lates foodborne illness data, as well as our examination of 2009 foodborne illness rates.

Other relevant Covering Health posts include:

Schneider: FDA lacks resources to keep food safe
CDC assembles rogues gallery of food bugs
Private food auditors didn’t stop outbreaks
Lax oversight, complex supply chains aid outbreaks

One thought on “Investigating, localizing salmonella outbreak

  1. Elaine Schattner, M.D.

    I’m struck with what’s such a practical use of relatively new science, that we can identify and track bacterial strains implicated in an outbreak. What’s nice (if you can call it that) about this story is that it ties genetics and medicine to what we do everyday in our kitchens. This sort of work is likely to reduce disease incidence.

    Salmonella can be really serious, i.e. deadly, and a lot of us, I suspect, don’t really think about it enough when we order eggs in a restaurant or cook in our homes.

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