Reports of foodborne illness outbreaks decline by 40%, says CSPI

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Foodborne illness outbreaks Foodborne disease outbreaks Foodborne illness Food safety

CSPI reveals foodborne illness outbreaks down in the latest available data
CSPI reveals foodborne illness outbreaks down in the latest available data
Foodborne illness outbreaks have decreased by 40% in a decade, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

From 2001 to 2010, the latest period for which data is available, outbreaks related to E.coli, Salmonella, and other pathogens have decreased by more than 40%, said the non-profit group.

Better food safety practices, such as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) programs in the meat, poultry, and seafood industries, may have contributed to the decline, said CSPI.

The data comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Foodborne Outbreak Online Database, state health department reports, peer-reviewed journals, and CDC’s Foodborne Outbreak Response and Surveillance Unit.

The CSPI said foodborne illness is notoriously underreported since most people do not seek medical treatment for typical cases of food poisoning.

Analysed cases

A total of 4,229 foodborne disease outbreaks were analysed from the period which were responsible for 106,635 cases of foodborne illness.

Seafood, poultry, and beef showed the sharpest decline in the number of reported outbreaks in the study period.

Outbreaks related to produce, which is responsible for more illnesses than any other category, have remained relatively flat.  

Illnesses related to dairy reached their highest point in 2010, the last year of the study period.  

Foods regulated by the FDA, which include produce, seafood, dairy, and most packaged foods, were responsible for more than twice as many outbreaks as the meat and poultry foods regulated by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), said the CSPI.

Incomplete reporting?

However, the group warned that incomplete reporting of outbreaks by understaffed and financially stretched public health agencies may influence the data. 

An outbreak is fully investigated when the food and the pathogen responsible are identified.  

But during the 10-year period, the percentage of fully investigated outbreaks decreased from 46% in 2001 to 33% in 2010.

“Despite progress made by the industry and by food safety regulators, contaminated food is still causing too many illnesses, visits to the emergency room, and deaths​,” said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal.  

“Yet state and local health departments and federal food safety programs always seem to be on the chopping block.  

“Those financial pressures not only threaten the progress we’ve made on food safety, but threaten our very understanding of which foods and which pathogens are making people sick.”

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