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Chipotle Plans To DNA Test Produce After E-Coli Outbreaks In Nine States

HughPickens.com writes: Lisa Jenning reports at Restaurant News that Chipotle plans to do DNA-based tests of all fresh produce before it is shipped to restaurants. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that the E. coli outbreak linked to Chipotle now includes seven more people in three new states, including Illinois, Maryland and Pennsylvania, for a total count of 52 sickened in nine states. Most of the illnesses were in Washington, with 27 cases, and Oregon, with 13 cases. Twenty people have been hospitalized but there have been no reported deaths. Health officials say a meal or ingredient from Chipotle was likely the cause, but they have not yet identified the specific source of the outbreak. Chipotle’s founder and co-chief executive, Steve Ells apologized to patrons who fell ill after eating at the company’s restaurants. “This was a very unfortunate incident and I’m deeply sorry that this happened, but the procedures we’re putting in place today are so above industry norms that we are going to be the safest place to eat.” The chain will begin end-of-shelf-life testing to ensure quality specifications are met throughout the shelf life of products. The data collected will be used to measure the performance of vendors and suppliers to enhance food safety throughout the system.

But food safety experts are mixed about the effectiveness of such screening efforts for the prevention of foodborne illness. Bob Whitaker, chief science and technology officer for the Produce Marketing Association, says such tests are not practical as a screening tool. Instead, restaurant chains should focus on whether their suppliers have adequate food-safety programs in place. “You can’t test your way to safety,” says Whitaker. “The problem with product testing by itself is that it’s hard to take enough samples to be confident that the product is free of any pathogens.” DNA tests are considered among the most accurate and fast, with same-day testing available for organisms like E. coli or salmonella, says Morgan Wallace. Some manufacturers don’t wait for results, since produce is perishable, but that introduces the risk of a produce recall if a pathogen has been identified after shipment. Others hold the product until test results are confirmed, but that practice adds holding costs and reduces the shelf life.

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