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Whole-genome sequencing – the future of food safety detection?

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) together with the World Health Organization (WHO) led a side event at the 40th Session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, to present and discuss global health benefits of using whole-genome sequencing (WGS) technology in foodborne disease surveillance and outbreak investigation. 

DNA fingerprinting

WGS, sometimes referred to as DNA fingerprinting, can identify microorganisms with previously unknown accuracy. The technology can detect more outbreaks in better detail as it is rapid, cost-effective, easy-to-use, and universally applicable among all organisations. 

Dr. Steven Musser, Deputy Director of the Centre for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition of the US Food and Drug Administration, explained that the positive impact of the technology on global health will increase significantly the more organisations both on national and international level share WGS data with each other. 

Delegates noted that at international level the INFOSAN network already provided a platform for sharing WGS data. However, a more global and formalized repository and sharing mechanism as well as possible future Codex related work in this area was needed (e.g. through the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene). 

Applying WGS in developing countries

The event which gathered key food safety and public health authorities, scientists and multilateral institutions, also had a focus on the application of WGS in developing countries. Mr. Juma Bonaventure of the Kenya Medical Research Institute, illustrated the potential usefulness of WGS in developing countries with the example of Kenya.

Delegates were provided with the opportunity to discuss WGS applications and workflows, outbreak detection, regulatory considerations, trade implications, development of a global data-sharing network, and metadata requirements, among others. 


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