The study, All Over the Map: A 10-Year Review of State Outbreak Reporting, from the Center for Science in The Public Interest claims the five categories constituted 57% of solved outbreaks and 58% of illnesses.
The overview, covering the period 2003-2012, found bacterial pathogens were responsible for 54% of all solved outbreaks. Viruses caused 35%, chemicals and toxins caused 11% and parasites caused less than one percent (one outbreak with 18 illnesses).
The bacterial pathogen most frequently identified was Salmonella spp, followed by Clostridium spp, Bacillus cereus and E. coli spp and finally Staphylococcus spp.
Most solved outbreaks were reported from restaurants and other food establishments (40%), followed by private homes, work places, and catered events. Outbreaks were less frequently reported from other categories.
There was a 12% drop in the number of solved outbreaks reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2012 compared to 2003, according to the research.
However, the authors suggested this could have been the result of switching to a new reporting system and reductions in public funding since 2009.
The amount of outbreak reports varied substantially between different states, with the degree of yearly variance being as great as 34%.
Crucially, the report stated: “Wide variations in how different states reported foodborne outbreaks is also largely attributed to differences in budgets and resources allocated to local and state public health departments.
“A 2014 report from the National Association of County & City Health Officials found that 63% of Americans live in counties with local health departments that ‘cut’ or ‘significantly cut’ services in 2009.
“A survey of public health departments found that budget cuts to local health departments in certain states resulted in deep job losses and in reduction or elimination of essential public health services.”
US states using FoodNet as a reporting tool were more effective in foodborne disease surveillance than those not using the system.
The study concluded: “States initiating more investigations and reporting higher incidences of foodborne illnesses may be those with robust epidemiological structures, political support for prioritizing food safety, and more generous budget allowances compared to other states.
“While it may seem counterintuitive, higher reporting states may in fact have fewer illnesses from food because they are finding outbreaks more rapidly and stopping them.”
It called on congress and individual state legislatures to prioritise funding for disease detection.