It used to be that poultry was the usual suspect in cases of Salmonella poisoning. Today, however, most outbreaks of the illness come from fruit and vegetables, which become infected from the soil they grow in when that soil is polluted by animal waste or non-potable water. There currently is no method of reducing the growth of Salmonella on such produce.
Each year, Salmonella infects some 88,000 people in Canada who consume contaminated food. And while many people suffer no ill effects, or a mild case of abdominal cramps, fever or diarrhea, others experience more serious infections, which can result in dehydration or infection travelling beyond the intestines, requiring medical attention and resulting in disability or even death. Salmonella infection is thought to cost the Canadian economy as much as $1 billion each year in medical costs, absences from work and economic losses to food companies and restaurants.
Dr. Lawrence Goodridge of McGill University and Roger C. Levesque from IBIS, Universite Laval, are leading a team that is using whole genome sequencing to identify the specific Salmonella strains that cause human disease. With this knowledge, the team will develop natural biosolutions to control the presence of Salmonella in fruit and vegetables as they are growing in the field. The team will also develop new tests to rapidly and efficiently detect the presence of Salmonella on fresh produce before it is sold to consumers, as well as tools to allow public health officials to determine the source of Salmonella outbreaks when they occur, so that contaminated food can be quickly removed from grocery stores and restaurants. Their work will reduce the number of people infected with Salmonella each year, as well as the economic costs of the infection.