Is the number of foodborne illness outbreaks actually increasing?

It seems that every week, as you surf the internet, you see more and more people sharing articles about the latest food that’s garnering fear at the supermarket. Foodborne illness outbreaks, and food recalls related to them, have been big news in recent years.

Part of the increased coverage is, of course, due to increased education and awareness as experts and officials strive to spread the word and keep people safe from foodborne illnesses, which can range from inconvenient to deadly. But have they actually increased in number, or do they just seem ubiquitous thanks to all the media coverage?

What’s going on?

It seems that in the U.S. at least, foodborne illnesses have not been rising.

Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that in the past 20 years, cases of the top six foodborne pathogens (including Salmonella and Listeria) have decreased by about 25%.

Now, despite the number of foodborne illness outbreaks dropping, the CDC reports that the severity of the average outbreak is actually increasing. This means more recalls are falling into more serious classifications out of the Class I, Class II and Class III types of recalls. Class I recalls come with a high risk of the public falling ill, Class II comes with “potential” health hazards with “remote” chances of sickness, and Class III recalls mean that eating the affected food will not cause health problems.

The number of outbreaks being linked to produce is also reportedly increasing.

Why is this happening?

One theory for the increased number of recalls associated with produce, apart from better reporting practices, links organic practices like using manure instead of chemical fertilizer in the soil, which more easily harbors pathogens. Antibiotic resistance in foodborne pathogenic bacteria has also resulting in increased virulence of bacteria.

Regardless of the cause, prevention is always in human hands. Food producers and processors need to take stringent sanitation steps to avoid sparking the foodborne illness outbreaks that make headlines so often these days.

Environmental monitoring programs are essential for people who manage food processing facilities, which involves testing regularly for pathogens and/or unintended allergens while validating and verifying sanitation method and effectiveness.

In doing so, processors can proactively address what’s necessary to protect their consumer and their own brand reputation from the damages of a foodborne illness outbreak and resulting potential recall.

Neogen is a leader in food safety, with the latest in pathogen testing, sanitation verification, food allergen detection and other solutions for all manner of food safety concerns.

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