Infodemiology -- the analysis of online information -- becoming increasingly important tool to combat outbreaks of foodborne illness, food safety official says

LOS ANGELES , March 9, 2012 () – At a recent Global Food Safety Initiative conference, Frank Yiannas, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Vice President of Food Safety and the outgoing conference chair, said that infodemiology -- the analysis of online information -- is becoming an increasingly important tool to combat outbreaks of foodborne illness, Food Production Daily reported March 7.

The importance is due in part to the fact that the impact of food recalls has grown since foods and ingredients tend to be distributed more quickly across larger areas than in the past.

One example of infodemiology is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) PulseNet site, Yiannas said. The site analyzes the DNA subtypes of pathogens found across the U.S.. In 2008, PulseNet helped the CDC catch a peanut-related salmonella outbreak that was eventually connected to nine deaths and more than 700 reported illnesses.

Infodemiology can also be applied to information contained in social media sites, Yiannas added.

According to figures supplied by the CDC, one in six people in the United States annually become ill as a result of foodborne illness, 375,000 people are hospitalized and roughly 3,000 eventually die as a result.

Yiannas said that every year, 1.8 million people die from foodborne illnesses.

The primary source of this article is Food Production Daily, Montpellier, France, on March 7, 2012.

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