Food-borne infections account for a staggering 9 million illnesses, 56,000 hospitalizations, and 1,300 deaths each year in the United States.
A new report compiled by the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration (IFSAC)—a tri-agency group created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US Food and Drug Administration, and the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service—sheds light on the types of foods that contribute to food-borne illnesses, which, in turn, could help inform preventive efforts, interventions, and policies.
In the report, IFSAC compiled food-borne source attribution estimates for 2013 using data on food-borne disease outbreaks that occurred between 1998 and 2013 involving 4 primary pathogens: Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157, Listeria monocytogenes, and Campylobacter. Only outbreaks associated with a single food category were included in the report. Outbreaks that occurred in a US territory or were caused by multiple etiologies were excluded.
The final dataset included 1043 outbreaks, 638 of which were caused or suspected to be caused by Salmonella, 203 by E. coli O157, 26 by Listeria, and 176 by Campylobacter. The biggest takeaways gleaned from the analysis?
- Illnesses caused by Salmonella were attributed across several food categories. About 75% of Salmonella infections were linked with 7 foods: seeded vegetables, eggs, chicken, other produce (such as nuts), pork, beef, and fruits.​​​​​​​
- E. coli O157 illnesses were most often linked with vegetable row crops and beef. In fact, over 75% of these infections were attributed to these 2 food categories.
- Listeria illnesses were most often linked with fruits and dairy products. Again, over 75% of these illnesses were attributed to these 2 food categories; however, the authors of the report note that because Listeria outbreaks are rare, these estimates may be less reliable than ones made for other pathogens included in the report.
- Non-dairy Campylobacter illnesses were most often linked with chicken. About 80% of non-dairy Campylobacter illnesses were attributed to the following food categories: chicken, other seafood, seeded vegetables, vegetable row crops, and other meat/poultry. The authors did not include Campylobacter outbreaks associated with dairy products because many of them were associated with unpasteurized milk, a product that the authors feel is not very widely consumed.
These estimates suggest that interventions dedicated to reducing these 4 pathogens should focus on the food groups the pathogens are associated with. “These estimates help us understand the scope of this public health problem,” the authors write. “These estimates can also help scientists; federal, state, and local policymakers; the food industry; consumer advocacy groups; and the public assess whether prevention measures are working.”
Knowing food-borne illness source attribution is also important to keep in mind when preparing foods during the holidays. The CDC provides the following food safety tips:
- Wash your hands with soap and water before preparing food, after touching any raw meat, eggs, or produce, and before consuming anything.
- Cook your food thoroughly. Use a food thermometer to ensure everything is cooked to a safe and appropriate temperature.
- Keep hot food hot, and cold food cold. Don’t let your food sit out for over 2 hours; refrigerate or freeze any perishables.
- Use pasteurized eggs for dishes that require raw eggs. Holiday classics such as eggnog, hollandaise sauce, tiramisu, and Caesar dressing all require raw eggs.
- Say no to raw dough! When baking holiday cookies, cakes, or pies, do not consume any raw dough or batter; they have been known to contain harmful pathogens such as Salmonella and E. coli.
- Keep your foods separated at the grocery store as well as in the refrigerator. Furthermore, keep your food in containers or sealed plastic bags to prevent juices from leaking into other foods.
For more food safety tips, go to the CDC’s website.
To keep up-to-date on the latest food-borne associated outbreaks, be sure to check out the Contagion ® Outbreak Monitor.