Report IDs food sources for 4 common pathogens

A new report outlining the foods most prone to pathogens was recently released by the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration (IFSAC), a partnership of several organizations including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Titled “Foodborne Illness Source Attribution Estimates for Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157 (E. coli O157), Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes), and Campylobacter, using Outbreak Surveillance Data,” the report analyzed data from nearly 1,000 outbreaks that occurred from 1998 to 2012 to assess which categories of foods were most responsible for making people sick from each of the four pathogens.

The pathogens were chosen because of the frequency or severity of the illnesses they cause, and because targeted interventions can have a significant impact in reducing them. According to CDC estimates, these four pathogens cause 1.9 million cases of foodborne illness in the U.S. each year.

According to an article from Drovers Cattle Network, the findings include:

  • More than 80% of E. coli O157 illnesses were attributed to beef and vegetable row crops, such as leafy vegetables.
  • Salmonella illnesses were most broadly attributed across food commodities studied, with 77% of illnesses related to seeded vegetables (such as tomatoes), eggs, fruits, chicken, beef, sprouts and pork.
  • Nearly 75% of Campylobacter illnesses were attributed to dairy (66%) and chicken (8%). Most of the dairy outbreaks used in the analysis were related to raw milk or cheese produced from raw milk, such as unpasteurized queso fresco.
  • More than 80% of Listeria illnesses were attributed to fruit (50%) and dairy (31%). Data were sparse for Listeria, and the estimate for fruit reflects the impact of a single large outbreak linked to cantaloupes in 2011.

This report is the first time the three federal agencies charged with food safety are using a single method to estimate sources of foodborne illnesses. The report comes amid calls to for a single food safety agency, as proposed in President Barack Obama’s 2016 federal budget plan.

Dr. Chris Braden of CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases, said in an article that a single methodology allows agencies to better coordinate their efforts.

“We can do more as a group than we can individually,” he said.

Due to limitations in outbreak data and uncertainty in the estimates, IFSAC recommends caution in interpreting some of the report’s findings, such as the estimates for Campylobacter in dairy and Listeria in fruits. IFSAC suggests that the results be used with other scientific data for risk-based decision making.

To view the full report, click here. For more information on Neogen’s food safety test kits, click here.

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