Newly published research in the USA has shown that the PulseNet laboratory network, which shares the genetic fingerprints of foodborne pathogen isolates, is preventing around 276,000 cases of foodborne illness every year. This equates to annual savings of $507 million on medical bills and lost productivity.
The research, led by economist Robert L. Scharff from Ohio State University and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through the Association of Public Health Laboratories, set out to assign financial and disease prevention values to PulseNet to coincide with the 20th anniversary of its launch.
Two models were applied to recorded PulseNet data from 1994 to 2009, focusing on Salmonella, Listeria and E. coli. The first was designed to estimate the indirect effects of the network in terms of preventing food contamination, while the second looked at direct effects through faster identification of outbreaks and timelier product recalls.
The results revealed that those US states that uploaded the most data onto PulseNet showed a reduced probability of future foodborne illnesses. This is thought to be largely a result of industry adopting better food safety practices as a response to higher levels of public scrutiny.
The ability of the network to facilitate rapid identification of outbreaks by establishing links between apparently sporadic cases also has a significant effect in preventing cases of illness. The researchers estimated that almost 17,000 fewer cases of Salmonella infection resulted from contaminated foods being recalled more quickly following the identification of an outbreak.
The results of the study are published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and can be found in full here.