Foodborne disease outbreaks that spread across more than one state cause more than half of all deaths in outbreaks, despite accounting for only a tiny fraction (about 3%) of reported outbreaks in the United States, according to a new Vital Signs report released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The leading causes of multistate outbreaks – Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria – are more dangerous than the leading causes of single-state outbreaks. These three pathogens, which cause 91% of multistate outbreaks, can contaminate widely distributed foods, such as vegetables, beef, chicken and fresh fruits, and end up sickening people in many states.
The report analyzed data from CDC’s Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System during 2010-2014. CDC scientists compared the number of illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths from outbreaks in two or more states with those from outbreaks that occurred in a single state. They found that the 120 multistate outbreaks during the five-year study period were responsible for 11% of all foodborne outbreak illnesses, 34% of hospitalizations and 56% of deaths. An average of 24 multistate outbreaks occurred each year, involving two to 37 states.
Other highlights from the report include:
- Salmonella accounted for the most illnesses and hospitalizations and was the cause of the three largest outbreaks, which were traced to eggs, chicken and raw ground tuna.
- Listeria caused the most deaths, largely due to an outbreak caused by contaminated cantaloupe in 2011 that killed 33 people.
- Imported foods accounted for 18 of the 120 reported outbreaks. Food imported from Mexico was the leading source in these outbreaks, followed by food imported from Turkey.
“Americans should not have to worry about getting sick from the food they eat,” CDC director Tom Frieden said in the article. “Top-notch epidemiology and new gene sequencing tools are helping us quickly track down the source of foodborne outbreaks – and together with our national partners we are working with the food industry to prevent them from happening in the first place.”
The report recommends that local, state, and national health agencies work closely with food industries to understand how their foods are produced and distributed to speed multistate outbreak investigations. These investigations can reveal fixable problems that resulted in food becoming contaminated and lessons learned that can help strengthen food safety.
The report highlights the need for food industries to play a larger role in improving food safety by following best practices for growing, processing, and shipping foods. In addition, the article states, food industries can help stop outbreaks and lessen their impact by keeping detailed records to allow faster tracing of foods from source to destination, by using store loyalty cards to help identify which foods made people sick, and by notifying customers of food recalls.
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