TUESDAY, Nov. 3, 2015Multistate outbreaks caused by contaminated food account for more than half of all foodborne illness deaths in the United States, even though they only represent 3 percent of all reported outbreaks, a new government report shows.
The findings prompted U.S. health officials to urge the food industry to play a larger role in preventing multistate outbreaks, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
“Americans shouldn’t have to worry about getting sick from the food they eat,” CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden said during a news conference Tuesday.
But each year one in six Americans is sickened by contaminated food, he said, adding that, “food industries play a critical role in improving our food safety.”
The food industry can help stop outbreaks by keeping better records to allow officials to trace contaminated food faster and by alerting consumers to recalls, CDC officials said.
Food safety can be improved from farm to table — growing, processing and shipping, Frieden said. The food industry has to meet or exceed new standards under the new U.S. food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act and new U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations, Frieden explained.
The top causes of multistate outbreaks — salmonella, E. coli and listeria — are more dangerous than the leading causes of single-state outbreaks, Frieden said.
These germs cause 91 percent of multistate outbreaks and can be found in contaminated vegetables, beef, chicken and fresh fruits. Because these foods are widely distributed, they can sicken people in many states, the CDC explained.
These outbreaks are more dangerous, because these germs are far more deadly than those that contaminate food in individual kitchens and restaurants, such as norovirus or rotavirus, Frieden said.
“Some of the multistate outbreaks are caused by antibiotic-resistant germs, which can increase the risk of hospitalization and untreatable infections,” Frieden said.
He also pointed out that the number of people sickened in any outbreak are typically greater than those reported. In fact, for every reported case there can be 20 or more unreported cases, Frieden said.
The new report used data from CDC’s Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System from 2010 to 2014.
Researchers compared the number of illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths from outbreaks in two or more states with those from outbreaks in a single state.
They found that 120 multistate outbreaks caused only 11 percent of all foodborne outbreak illnesses, but they accounted for 34 percent of hospitalizations and 56 percent of deaths. During the five-year study, an average of 24 multistate outbreaks occurred each year, involving anywhere from two to 37 states.
Other highlights from the report include:
- Salmonella was responsible for the three largest outbreaks, and caused the most illnesses and hospitalizations. The outbreaks were from eggs, chicken and raw ground tuna.
- Listeria caused the most deaths. These deaths were mostly from an outbreak traced back to contaminated cantaloupe in 2011 that killed 33 people.
- Imported foods caused 18 of the 120 reported outbreaks. Food from Mexico was the main source in these outbreaks, with food from Turkey pinpointed as the second leading source of imported food outbreaks.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is developing new regulations that will require importers to verify that their foods meet U.S. safety standards. In addition, the FDA will hold domestic and foreign companies liable for preventing foodborne illness.
To learn more about food safety, visit the Foodsafety.gov.