C.D.C.'s foodborne illness study 'skewed': N.C.C.
June 19, 2009
by Bryan Salvage
WASHINGTON — A study recently published on foodborne illness by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention presents a misleading picture of the safety of poultry, charged the National Chicken Council. "The report contains anomalies that seriously skew the results," N.C.C. stated.
C.D.C.’s report suggests poultry are the single-leading cause of outbreaks of foodborne illness, with poultry responsible for 21% of outbreak-related cases. This is based on attributing 1,355 cases to poultry out of a total of 6,395 cases (21.1%). However, of the total cases attributed to poultry, 741, stemmed from a single incident in an Alabama jail or prison in March 2006, which is suspected (but not confirmed, according to a publicly available C.D.C. database) to result from Clostridium perfringens in baked chicken.
Without this single incident, poultry would account for 614 of 5,653 cases, or 10.9%. This would place poultry well behind other commodities mentioned in the report, N.C.C. relayed.
N.C.C. added the Alabama incident also explains another oddity in the report: the high number of cases (902) attributed to C. perfringens in poultry, which typically causes problems if food is left out in the "danger zone" between 40ºF and 140°F for an extended period of time. While C. perfringens is a known cause of foodborne illness in poultry (as well as other foods), it has not previously been mentioned as a leading cause.
If the Alabama cases are removed from the total, the number of cases of foodborne illness from C. perfringens in poultry in 2006 would be 161. The average annual number of cases of foodborne illness from C. perfringens in all food sources from 2001 to 2005 was 2,077, according to the report,
"America’s chicken producers and processors work hard to provide safe, wholesome food to customers in the United States and around the world," said Steve Pretanik, the N.C.C.’s director of science and technology. "Any case of foodborne illness is unfortunate, but it is unfair to present a picture that is skewed by a single, unusual event."