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New Food Safety Tests Could Hamper Outbreak Detection

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New tests that promise to speed up diagnosis of food poisoning pose an unexpected problem: They could make it more difficult to identify dangerous outbreaks like the one that sickened people who ate a variety of Trader Joe's peanut butter this fall.

The problem: These new tests can't detect crucial differences between different subtypes of bacteria, as today's tests can. And that fingerprint is what states and the federal government use to match sick people to a contaminated food.

It all comes down to what's called a bacterial culture ā€” whether labs grow a sample of a patient's bacteria in an old-fashioned petri dish, or skip that step because the new tests don't require it.

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