Foodborne outbreak action

by Erica Shaffer
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ATLANTA – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is calling for more collaboration between the food industry and public health agencies to make food safer for consumers.

The call to action comes with the release of the agency’s latest Vital Signs report, which found that multistate foodborne outbreaks cause more than half of all deaths in foodborne disease outbreaks despite accounting for only 3 percent of reported outbreaks in the United States. The CDC analyzed data from its Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System during 2010-2014 for the report.

CDC said the report highlights the need for government health agencies at all levels to work closely with the food industry to understand food production and distribution practices. The agency added that food industries should play a larger role in improving food safety by following best practices and keeping detailed records to allow faster traceback during foodborne illness investigations.

“Americans should not have to worry about getting sick from the food they eat,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden. “Top-notch epidemiology and new gene sequencing tools are helping us quickly track down the source of foodborne outbreaks – and together with our national partners we are working with the food industry to prevent them from happening in the first place.”

The CDC compared the number of illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths reported in outbreaks in two or more states with those from outbreaks that occurred in a single state. The analysis revealed 120 multistate outbreaks during the five-year study period were responsible for 11 percent of all foodborne outbreak illnesses, 34 percent of hospitalizations and 56 percent of deaths. Additionally, an average of 24 multistate outbreaks occurred each year, involving two to 37 states.

Other findings from the study include:

Salmonella accounted for the most illnesses and hospitalizations and was the cause of the three largest outbreaks, which were traced to eggs, chicken and raw ground tuna.

Listeria monocytogenes caused the most deaths, largely due to an outbreak caused by contaminated cantaloupe in 2011 that killed 33 people.

• Imported foods accounted for 18 of the 120 reported outbreaks. CDC said food imported from Mexico was the leading source in these outbreaks, followed by food imported from Turkey.

“The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service’s top priority is preventing multistate foodborne illness outbreaks from occurring. As we look toward the future, USDA will continue to work with FDA, CDC, industry, and the states to advance our science-based approach to food safety,” said Phillip Derfler, USDA Deputy Administrator for the Food Safety and Inspection Service. “By focusing on collaboration and modernization, we are confident that there will be a decline in multistate outbreaks.”

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