News from Stop Foodborne Illness | October 2017

GenomeTrakr: New Technology Enables Quick, Accurate Pathogen Tracing to Reduce Foodborne Illnesses + Deaths

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s GenomeTrakr is a serious food safety game changer.

Have you heard some buzz about it yet?

We know many of our readers still feel a little in the dark about what GenomeTrakr is and how its groundbreaking technology is helping public health officials do real-time analysis to speed up foodborne illness outbreak investigations with the ultimate aim of dramatically reducing foodborne illnesses and deaths. If you’re one of those folks, this article is for you! It’ll bring you up to speed on some GenomeTrakr basics along with additional resources you can dig into to learn more.

Let’s get started with some FAST FACTS about GenomeTrakr provided by the FDA:

  • GenomeTrakr is the first distributed network of labs to utilize whole genome sequencing (WGS) for pathogen identification
  • Consists of 15 federal labs, 25 state health and university labs, 1 U.S. hospital lab, 2 other labs located in the U.S., 20 labs located outside of the U.S., and collaborations with independent academic researchers
  • The GenomeTrakr network has sequenced more than 129,000 isolates and closed more than 175 genomes; the network is regularly sequencing over 3,500 isolates each month
  • WGS can clearly define foodborne illness outbreaks
  • WGS networks are reliable, efficient, and can provide location specificity for outbreak investigations
  • WGS is inexpensive, easy to use, has identical sample prep for all pathogens, is the most accurate and high-resolution subtyping technique, and a single test yields information about resistance, serotype, virulence factors, etc.

What’s really exciting is seeing how GenomeTrakr is being used in the world today. This “real-time” food safety application featured on the FDA’s website gives us a specific example called the “FDA/CDC Real Time Listeria Project”:

Further integrating the marriage of clinical, food, and environmental pathogen analysis, FDA has partnered with CDC in an effort to sequence every clinical, food, and environmental isolate of Listeria monocytogenes collected in the U.S. CDC is primarily sequencing clinical samples while FDA and the state laboratories are sequencing food and environmental samples. The genomic sequences and corresponding collection information for the samples are publicly available via the NCBI website.

So, what’s the bottom line?

Whole genome sequencing with GenomeTrakr makes it possible to trace a foodborne pathogen back to its source more quickly—and with more accuracy—than the methods currently in place.

And that means contaminated food can be STOPPED from distribution in the marketplace faster to save more people from sickness or death from potentially deadly pathogens lurking in their meals at restaurants or food in their fridge.

Want to learn more about the science and methodology behind GenomeTrakr?

Just click over to this in-depth interview conducted by It features the FDA’s Eric Brown, PhD. and Marc Allard, Ph.D. who explain in great detail how the program works.

Need help understanding some technical terms used to describe Whole Genome Sequencing?

Here’s a brief glossary for reference:


The cultivation of microorganisms, as bacteria, or of tissues, for scientific study, medicinal use, etc.


The complete set of genes or genetic material present in a cell or organism.


A culture of microorganisms isolated for study.


To determine the order of (chemical units in a polymer chain), especially nucleotides in DNA or RNA or amino acids in a protein.


A group of organisms, microorganisms, or cells distinguished by their shared specific antigens as determined by serologic testing.


A subdivision of a type of microorganism.

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