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Shutdown means less monitoring of foodborne disease

When people think about defective products, they may think of things like electric heaters that have faulty wiring, overheat and catch fire, a lawn mower with a defective blade, or a car with defective brakes. But they often forget that one of the consumer products that we most often come in contact with that can be defective are food products.

We forget that virtually everything we consume from a supermarket or restaurant is produced, after all, there is a reasons there is a department in most grocery stores called "produce." When food is a defective product, it typically means either it is infected with some foodborne illness, like E. coli or salmonella, or it has been contaminated with chemicals or other materials from the manufacturing process.

Because of our industrialized mass-produced food is often processed in one location and distributed widely across the entire nation, identify a source of contamination and tracking it to the source can be a difficult task.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the federal agency whose job it is to monitor the nation's food supply and warn of contaminated products. However, with the partial government shut down that occurred this week many government agencies have been forced to eliminate functions deemed non-essential.

For the CDC, this has meant reducing their staff that maintains surveillance of outbreaks of foodborne illness. The PulseNet team has been reduced from eight to three. While they have prioritized the clusters of illness they are watching, this weakening of the surveillance could have negative consequences should a significant outbreak occur during the shutdown. 

Source: NPR.com, "CDC: Shutdown Strains Foodborne Illness Tracking," Allison Aubrey, October 3, 2013

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