Products regulated by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) such as chicken nuggets, ham, and sausage pose the lowest risk of foodborne illness, said a report from the group.
However, James H. Hodges, American Meat Institute Foundation president said the report’s focus on meat and poultry means it lacks a total diet context.
The foods in question
The CSPI report ranks chicken with the highest number of outbreaks (452), cases of illness (6,896) and gives it a severity index of 657.
The severity index was calculated by determining the number of illnesses caused by each pathogen for each food group, and then applying the hospitalization rate due to that pathogen.
Salmonella and E.coli O157:H7, two pathogens that contaminate meat and poultry during slaughter and processing, were responsible for one-third of all illnesses, said the group.
Ground beef is also high risk with 336 outbreaks, 3,801 cases of illness and a severity index of 869.
It examines 12 years of foodborne illness outbreak data and 1,700 outbreaks between 1998-2010.
Caroline Smith DeWaal, CSPI food safety director, said: “For example, approximately a quarter of those who are sickened by Salmonella will go to the hospital. The hospitalization rate for E.coli infections is nearly 50% and for Listeria infections it is more than 90%.”
Other beef (99 outbreaks and 2414 cases of illness), steak (82 outbreaks and 1,935 cases of illness) and turkey (130 outbreaks and 4,349 cases of illness) are rated as high risk.
Barbecue (94 outbreak and 2,484 cases of illness), deli meat (59 outbreaks and 1,515 cases of illness), pork (129 outbreaks and 2,262 cases of illness and roast beef (92 outbreaks and 2,470 cases of illness) are medium risk.
Chicken nuggets (37 outbreaks and 203 cases of illness), ham (49 outbreaks and 1,094 cases of illness) and sausage (54 outbreaks and 823 cases of illness) are low risk.
Hodges said a broader examination of the total food supply could have delivered a more meaningful examination of risk from normal diets.
“While we are always seeking to do better, our industry's food safety performance reflects commitment and continuous improvement.
“Consumers should continue to enjoy the meat and poultry products they normally choose and should continue to follow the safe handling instructions provided on all packages.”
He added that they agree with CSPI's perspective that better food attribution data is needed to understand the causes of foodborne illnesses and potential strategies for improvement.
“Meat and poultry producers must bear primary responsibility for keeping pathogens out of their products, but when it comes to beef, chicken, and other raw meats, restaurateurs and home cooks must treat them like hazardous materials and take steps to minimize risk,” said CSPI senior food safety attorney Sarah Klein.
“Clostridium doesn’t get the same kind of headlines that its far deadlier cousins E.coli and Salmonella get, but it’s responsible for an enormous amount of foodborne illness linked to leftovers or food left out too long on the buffet,” she added.