Food safety and quality

Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) and food safety

Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS), as also known as Next Generation Sequencing (NGS), is one of the new laboratory tools that reveals the complete DNA make-up of an organism. The simplicity, precision, speed and flexibility of WGS provide advantages over the multiple traditional methodologies combined.

With the rapidly declining cost of this technology, WGS applications in food safety management, food safety regulatory activities, including the opportunities it provides for enhanced integration of information from other sectors, such as human and animal health, could contribute to enhanced consumer protection, trade facilitation, and food/nutrition security.

Current activities

FAO collaborates with the University of Putra Malaysia (UPM) to develop a case study on WGS analysis of the Streptococcus Agalactiae, also referred to as Group B Streptococcus (GBS) in food (see FAO Risk Profile). The foodborne GBS, particularly of the Strain Type (ST) 283, was a news in 2015 for various food safety authorities, when an outbreak was first reported in Singapore, a very close neighbor country to Malaysia (see Factsheet). Because only this specific strain (ST283) causes the severe foodborne diseases, it is important for the authorities to be equipped with WGS technical capacity and resources to detect and analyze the samples to investigate relevant cases and outbreaks. The project is being conducted in 2023 - 2024 and the final publication is planned in 2025.

In collaboration with FAO's Land and Water Division and under the project entitled "Water quality, irrigation and on-farm controls for achieving global food safety and nutrition security", FAO contributes to strengthening the WGS capacity for food safety management in several low- and middle-income countries. Several meetings and workshops will be held in 2024.

FAO’s Work on WGS and Food Safety

FAO technical workshop on the use of WGS for food safety management: FAO organized a technical workshop on the use of Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) for food safety management at the FAO Headquarters, Rome, Italy from 18 to 20 April 2023. The report of the workshop will be published in the first half of 2024, and various follow-up activities are being planned for this initiative in 2024 and 2025.

It is FAO's role to keep all Members informed on the latest scientific developments in the food and agriculture sectors, and provide technical assistance to those who need it. FAO in collaboration with the World Health Organizations (WHO) has published several technical papers and convened meetings and international conferences on WGS, on the applications and the impact of WGS on food safety management. It also supports non-profit technical initiatives working on WGS and food safety, such as Global Microbial Identifier and PulseNet International and facilitate an informal network of developing countries to share information, knowledge and experience in using WGS for food safety management. Other FAO activities on WGS and food safety are documented below.