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Press Release

For Immediate Release: October 15, 1999
Contact: CDC Media Relations (404) 639-3286

CDC's PulseNet wins an "Innovations In American Government" Award

PulseNet, a component of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) foodborne illness detection system, yesterday was named one of 10 winners of the Innovations in American Government Awards sponsored by the Ford Foundation. The program will receive a $100,000 award and recognition as one of the nation's best examples of government performance.

The CDC developed the PulseNet program to help investigate and prevent outbreaks of foodborne illness by sharing information about the problem bacteria quickly. PulseNet laboratories detect outbreaks by using a technique called pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) to "fingerprint" bacteria through their DNA. "Fingerprinting" the DNA of bacteria allows labs to match disease-causing strains.

PulseNet has standardized the way labs type bacteria, and has taken the process a step further by digitizing the information so that it can be shared electronically, similar to a bar code. In the past, labs had to trade physical specimens to compare the disease-causing bacteria, a process that took several days. Now scientists can access CDC's library of DNA "fingerprints," to find bacteria matches within minutes.

"CDC is honored to receive this prestigious award and we are proud of our staff who developed PulseNet. We also wish to recognize the United States Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and all the state health departments that participate in PulseNet. Without their collaboration, this vital system, which helps to ensure a safer food supply for our country, would not be possible," said CDC Director Dr. Jeffrey Koplan.

Today, PulseNet helps to detect foodborne disease outbreaks faster than ever before. Here are some ways PulseNet has helped identify foodborne bacteria in the nation's food supply.

  • PulseNet was instrumental in detecting a 1998 outbreak of Listeria infections that caused 21 deaths in several states and tracing the bacteria to a large food processing plant in Michigan.
  • In 1998, PulseNet helped identify cases of Salmonella caused by a strain found in some ready-to-eat toasted oat cereal.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture identified meat production and processing practices that may lead to E. coli contamination of the U.S. meat supply. The supply is now safer and more tightly monitored.
  • "The U.S. food supply is safer than it was three years ago because of PulseNet and as the PulseNet database of bacteria "fingerprints" continues to expand, it will help keep our food supply safer and reduce the risk of foodborne illness," said Dr. James Hughes, director, National Center for Infectious Diseases.

The Innovations in Government Awards competition is rigorous. Beginning each January, approximately 1,500 program applications are reviewed by Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, which administers the Innovations program. Each program application is evaluated according to four selection criteria: they must be novel, be effective, solve a significant problem, and be replicable by other government entities. In May, 100 semi-finalists are selected from this pool of applicants, and in September 25 finalists are named. Each finalist receives a $20,000 grant from the Ford Foundation.

For more information on PulseNet go to


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