Processing Magazine

US foodborne illness outbreaks plummet 40%

April 15, 2013
meat processing
This improvement could be attributed to the better food-safety practices in meat, poultry and seafood industries.

Food safety has always been a top priority for the U.S. food manufacturing and processing industry and over the past decade many measures to improve standards and to implement best practices have been taken. As a result, the U.S. food industry can be trusted more than ever, a new analysis by nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) suggested.

The report revealed that the number of reported outbreaks of foodborne illness dropped by 40% between 2001 and 2010 and this improvement could be attributed to the better food-safety practices in meat, poultry and seafood industries, the organization said in a press release.

However, the CSPI noted that there was still a long way to go to ensure that adequate prevention and reaction to the outbreaks takes place. Health officials often fail to fully investigate outbreaks and they sometimes fail to identify the exact food product and the pathogen that causes the outbreak or even where it came from. Over the same ten-year period, the number of fully investigated foodborne illness outbreaks fell from 46% to 33%, the report stated. Another factor that should be taken into account is the relatively low number of people who report foodborne diseases, because in many cases they prefer not to seek medical treatment, the group added.

According to CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal, progress has been made both by the food industry and by food safety regulators. But there are still people dying from preventable foodborne illness and many more end up in emergency rooms because of contaminated food. State and federal health officials' failure to conduct a full investigation of outbreaks not only puts a financial burden on the national health system, but puts food safety programs at risk by preventing an understanding and analysis of the pathogens that cause these diseases, she said in the press release.

RELATED: Report calls for quicker response to Salmonella outbreaks

The CSPI stated that food regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) accounted for twice as many outbreaks as those regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, such as meat and poultry. However, the number of FDA-regulated food involved in foodborne disease outbreaks is predicted to fall over the next years, as the agency has been implementing a new food-safety policy under its Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which focuses much more on prevention, rather than just prescribing actions in case outbreaks occur.

Meanwhile, another area that needs urgent attention is safety regarding imported food. Last year, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the number of foodborne disease outbreaks caused by imported food increased in 2009 and 2010, with fish being the most common reason for the outbreaks. It was also estimated that about 50% of fresh fruit, 20% of fresh vegetables and 80% of seafood are imported, FDA figures show. In a bid to improve imported food safety, the FDA launched its International Food Safety Capacity-Building Plan in February.