Foodborne Pathogen Surveillance

Program Summary

Foodborne pathogens are responsible for a large burden of disease in the human population. Despite this many cases go unreported.  Identifying cases of foodborne illness is critically important in allowing epidemiologists and public health officials to detect outbreaks, track sources of contaminated food, remove them from the food chain and therefore limit the number of ongoing infections.

Culture based methods have traditionally been used to identify foodborne pathogens along with molecular techniques such as MLVA that can be used to "type" the infecting strain.  Epidemiologists then use this information to link isolates and identify clusters of infection, leading to the detection of disease outbreaks. Although these techniques have become a mainstay of many public health laboratories, they are associated with some limitations.  Culture based methods can be slow and labour intensive and generally provide poor resolution meaning that the appropriate linkage of isolates may be inaccurate. 

Whole genome sequencing can revolutionise the way in which epidemiologists and public health officials deal with foodborne pathogens and disease.  It provides unparalleled resolution meaning that isolates can be accurately linked, which is essential for the detection of outbreaks. It provides a rapid and cost effective method for identifying foodborne pathogens that has the potential to speed up outbreak detection and therefore minimize the burden of illness.

The objectives of this research priority are therefore to demonstrate the ability of whole genome sequencing to accurately identify and type foodborne pathogens, and to aid epidemiologists and public health officials to more rapidly and accurately identify foodborne disease outbreaks in Australia.