The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) identified a total of 5,778 outbreaks of illness linked to specific foods, involving 168,898 individual illnesses that occurred between 1990 and 2006. An outbreak involves two or more ill people. The food categories most commonly linked to outbreaks were:
• Seafood: 1,140 outbreaks involving 11,809 cases of illness
• Produce: 768 outbreaks involving 35,060 cases of illness
• Poultry: 620 outbreaks involving 18,906 cases of illness
• Beef: 518 outbreaks involving 14,191 cases of illness
• Eggs: 351 outbreaks involving 11,143 cases of illness
This chart shows the relative rates of illnesses linked to outbreaks among the food categories when adjusted for consumption during the period of 1999 to 2006. Since Dairy is the lowest risk food category per serving consumed, we set its rate of illness as “1” in order to facilitate a comparison between categories.
Remember, CSPI is counting only those illnesses that are "officially" reported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 76 million foodborne illness cases occur in the United States every year. This amounts to one in four Americans becoming ill after eating foods contaminated with such pathogens as E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, Hepatitis A, Campylobacter, Shigella, Norovirus, and Listeria. On an annual basis, approximately 325,000 people are hospitalized with a diagnosis of food poisoning, and 5,000 die
The Center for Science in the Public Interest recommends:
1. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) should continue to improve outbreak reporting and surveillance. The CDC has improved its reporting and surveillance system, but gaps still remain. For example, nearly half of all states do not follow national standards for tracking disease outbreaks. Those gaps are particularly troubling given the numerous recent large outbreaks. Improvements in state oversight and coordination and increased funding at state level would allow CDC to act more quickly and could reduce the sizes of foodborne illness outbreaks.
2. Congress should pass legislation to modernize food safety laws and increase funding, starting with FDA’s food safety program. While creating a unified, independent food- safety agency would be the best solution in the long run, the crisis in confidence in FDA’s ability to manage food safety problems creates an urgency for making improvements at that agency. Outbreaks occur, in part, because of inadequate regulatory authority, inadequate monitoring, and inadequate funding. Congress should separate food safety from drug approvals, by creating a new Food Safety Administration at the Department of Health and Human Services. A new Administrator would oversee the modernization of the food safety program, with an enhanced mission in the areas of prevention, inspection and enforcement and would help restore consumer confidence.