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2017 IRAC Work Group on the Application of Whole Genome Sequencing to Assess Food Safety Risk

The Work Group provides a forum for federal partners to explore the practical application of whole genome sequencing (WGS) data to advance how federal agencies assess microbiological food safety risks for purposes of guiding risk management decisions. WGS provides maximum resolution for DNA-based characterization of pathogens. While data interpretation remains a challenge (e.g., translation into physiological behavior), the rapidly decreasing costs, timely generation of more robust and discriminate subtyping information has led to increased use of WGS in foodborne disease surveillance and use in federal testing of foods and the environment. As these advancements in subtyping revolutionize outbreak surveillance, pathogen source tracking, and characterization of these hazards, including tracking drug resistance across the farm-to-table continuum, the challenge is how best to leverage this type of emerging data to support risk-based decision-making. Specifically, we will further explore:

  • Primary food safety decision contexts (e.g., recalls, major policies, etc.);
  • How this new data might lead to changes or inform traditional components of food safety risk assessments and/or transform the approaches used to assess food safety risks altogether;
  • Opportunities and challenges in applying WGS information to food safety risk assessment; and
  • Utility of the risk analysis framework to guide the collection and interpretation of WGS and related meta data

A workshop held on September 27, 2017, was the culmination of multi-disciplinary, cross-agency discussions on how WGS may provide improved data, including enhanced epidemiological linkage of clinical cases of illness to food source, insights to new intervention options to reduce contamination and prevent foodborne illness, and an enhanced understanding of consumer exposure to specific strains of a foodborne pathogen that results in illness. The workshop focused on key considerations, including opportunities and challenges, identified by the Work Group in exploring the practical application of WGS to assess food safety risks in the context of specific food safety case studies (i.e., Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods and Salmonella in meat and poultry). The outcome of this Work Group is proposed "next steps" as part of an action plan to further advance the future utilization of WGS within the risk assessment framework.

Work Group


Summary and Action Plan

Additional information for Work Group members