April 20, 2016

CDC's PulseNet: Improving Food Safety for 20 Years

A recent Governing article discusses the state of food safety in the United States and specifically, how food safety has improved since the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched its PulseNet surveillance system in 1996. 

PulseNet is a network of 83 federal, state, and local public health laboratories that collect samples and DNA from patients struck by foodborne illness and enter the information into a nationwide data repository.  This data helps over 3,000 local, state, and federal agencies identify links between outbreaks occurring in multiple states.  PulseNet was largely created in response to a 1993 E.coli outbreak linked to undercooked hamburgers sold by Jack in the Box restaurants.  Four children died and over 700 people were infected.

According to a study published in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, PulseNet annually prevents a quarter million illnesses and saves half a billion dollars in medical costs and lost worker productivity.  The implementation of PulseNet along with other food safety measures implemented by the CDC, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and within the food industry decreased the number of E.coli infections nationwide by approximately 50% from 1997 to 2011.