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Pulsenet Wins Innovations In American Government Award

WASHINGTON, October 14, 1999 -PulseNet, the CDC's foodborne illness detection system, was named one of 10 winners of the Innovations in American Government Awards, the Ford Foundation announced today.  The program will receive a $100,000 award and recognition as one of the nation's best examples of government performance.

"These are only 10 of the many cutting-edge strategies that government employs to improve our daily lives," said Susan Berresford, president of the Ford Foundation.  "As programs like PulseNet are adopted elsewhere, our government continues to become more efficient and more competitive."

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 trace 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.

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

  • 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.
  • 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. food supply is safer than it was three years ago because of the advances the PulseNet system has made in the field of molecular epidemiology and the heightened awareness of safety in the food industry.  As the PulseNet database of bacteria "fingerprints" continues to expand, it keeps our food supply safer and reduces the dangerous effects of foodborne illness outbreaks.

"We are honored to be selected a winner of the Innovations in American Government Award," stated Dr. Bala Swaminathan, Chief, Foodborne & Diarrheal Diseases Laboratory Section.  "This recognition of PulseNet will help us spread the message of food safety throughout the nation."

The competition is rigorous.  Beginning each January, approximately 1,500 program applications are reviewed by Harvard Universityís 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.

Yesterday, these finalists assembled in Washington, D.C., all attempting to convince the National Selection Committee that their program best satisfies these four criteria and is deserving of the additional $80,000 grant that goes to each winner.  Today, David Gergen, chairman of the National Selection Committee, announced the 10 winners.

"With all the opportunities technology now offers us, perhaps none is greater than the chance to actually save lives," said Gergen.  "The CDC has built a nationwide network to contain the threat of foodborne illness."

The Innovations in American Government Awards program is funded by the Ford Foundation and administered by the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in partnership with the Council for Excellence in Government.  Since the Ford Foundation began granting Innovations Awards in 1986, over 85 percent of the winning programs have been successfully replicated.

More information on the Innovations in American Government Awards, including the application for the 2000 awards competition, is available at the Innovations in American Government website.

Contact Chief, Laboratory Section, Foodborne & Diarrheal Diseases Branch
National Center for Infectious Diseases
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
1600 Clifton Rd., Mail Stop C007
Atlanta, GA 30333
Phone: (404) 639-3669

More information on PulseNet

Return to the Innovations Winners Press Release List

Return to the Innovations Home Page

The Innovations in American Government Program
An  Awards Program of the Ford Foundation and Harvard Universityís

John F. Kennedy School of Government in partnership

with the Council for Excellence in Government

For Immediate Release 
October 14, 1999
Contact: Alison Bender (202) 261-2875
Heather Wood (617) 495-0557


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