Data shows no decrease in rate of US food related outbreaks

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food safety, Foodborne illness

Progress in the prevention of foodborne illnesses in the US has stalled, admits the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

According to new data from Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet), in which the CDC is a collaborative partner, the rate of foodborne illnesses in the US has remained the same in the last three years despite the use of new tools to help predict potential threats to foods and the use of new outbreak prevention methods.

Plateau reached

Robert Tauxe, deputy director of CDC’s division of Foodborne, Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases said the agency recognizes that it has reached a plateau in the prevention of foodborne disease and that it must initiate new efforts to develop and evaluate food safety practices from the farm to the table.

“The foodborne division at CDC is planning to increase the capacity of several health departments so that outbreaks can be better detected and investigated.”

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also collaborate with FoodNet, which monitors the incidence of foodborne disease every year and compares the current data with the previous three years as well as the period from 1996 to 1998, the first three years of the surveillance project.

The latest data shows that foodborne infection related to the pathogens Campylobacter​, Cryptosporidium​, Listeria​, E. coli​ STEC 0157, and Salmonella ​did not change significantly when evaluated against the period 2005-2007.

In fact, the report reveals that the rate of illnesses caused by Salmonella​ has remained between 14 and 16 cases per 100,000 persons since the first years of surveillance.

FDA response

The associate commissioner for foods at the FDA, David Acheson, claims that the agency is employing new ways of detecting and preventing foodborne illnesses in an increasingly complex food supply chain and he added that the agency is embarking on an aggressive and proactive approach to protect and enforce the safety of the US food supply.

“The agency is committed to make the necessary changes to keep unsafe products out of the marketplace before they reach consumers,”​ he stated.

Consumer anxiety

Over the last few months, a number of safety scares has rocked the US food industry with some processors tainted by incidences involving E. coli in ground beef and salmonella in peanut butter and pistachios.

And, in a survey of over 2,000 US adults conducted by the American Society for Quality (ASQ), 73 per cent of respondents said at the very least that they were 'concerned' over the country’s food safety record, and only 39 per cent believed current processes for food recalls were excellent or good.

The survey also found that only one in five respondents thought enough was being done to protect consumers. In apparent disapproval of industry, the survey found 93 per cent were in support of food manufacturers, growers or suppliers facing legal responsibility for causing any fatal sickness.

Producer responsibility

Meanwhile, industry representatives, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) maintains that while strong government oversight is important, the primary responsibility for product safety rests squarely on the shoulders of those companies that make consumer packaged goods.

Yesterday, the association convened experts from the food and beverage industry, academia and government to discuss and assess recent events and to make recommendations for improving the US food supply, share successful practices and develop a comprehensive plan for preventing food-related health outbreaks.

The GMA is proposing that the FDA should require every food manufacturer to have a food safety plan in place that identifies and mitigates the risk of contamination and that every food importer should document the food safety measures employed by their suppliers.

It is also calling for the US Congress to provide the food safety agency with mandatory recall authority when companies fail to recall products on a voluntary basis and to increase FDA funding to provide it with the funds it needs to hire more food safety experts and improve its laboratory and information technology capabilities.

Related topics: Suppliers

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