ABSTRACT

High consumption rates and a multitude of brands make multistate foodborne outbreaks of Salmonella infections associated with chicken challenging to investigate, but whole genome sequencing is a powerful tool that can be used to assist investigators. Whole genome sequencing of pathogens isolated from clinical, environmental, and food samples is increasingly being used in multistate foodborne outbreak investigations to determine with unprecedented resolution how closely related these isolates are to one another genetically. In 2014, federal and state health officials investigated an outbreak of 146 Salmonella Heidelberg infections in 24 states. A follow-up analysis was conducted after the conclusion of the investigation in which 27 clinical and 24 food isolates from the outbreak underwent whole genome sequencing. These isolates formed seven clades, the largest of which contained clinical isolates from a subcluster of case patients who attended a catered party. One isolate from a chicken processed by a large producer was closely related genetically (zero to three single-nucleotide polymorphism differences) to the clinical isolates from these subcluster case patients. Chicken from this large producer was also present in the kitchen of the caterer on the day before the event, thus providing additional evidence that the chicken from this producer was the outbreak source. This investigation highlights how whole genome sequencing can be used with epidemiologic and traceback evidence to identify chicken sources of foodborne outbreaks.

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