Foodborne Illness Outbreaks On the Rise

Things are not getting better in the United States when it comes to outbreaks of foodborne illness, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group says. In fact, they're getting worse.

| October 25, 2012

  • A sick stomach
    Thousands of U.S. citizens become sick each year and as many as 3,000 die from foodborne illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Though gastro-intestinal upsets are by far the majority of these illnesses, some foodborne illness can cause serious health problems and death.
    Photo by Julija Sapic/Fotolia

  • A sick stomach

The following article is posted with permission from Food Safety News. 

In a little less than two years, recalled foods have been linked to 1,753 illnesses, 464 hospitalizations and at least 37 deaths and have cost the public $227 million in health costs, according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

In a report that U.S. PIRG calls a ‘snapshot look” at foodborne illness in the U.S. from January 2011 to September 2012, the group looks at outbreaks that involved cantaloupe, ground turkey, papaya, mangoes, raw tuna and peanut butter, all of which were recalled after being linked to ongoing outbreaks. The report concludes that things are not getting better in the U.S. when it comes to foodborne illnesses. In fact, they are getting worse.

“Failures in the rules and processes that protect our food supply have led to numerous high-volume recalls over the past two years that left many Americans sickened and at least 37 dead,” says U.S. PIRG. “And the economic costs of illnesses caused by food products recalled over the past 21 months come to over $227 million.”

The report says Americans have become accustomed to food recalls. It paints a picture of a country where foodborne illness has become routine, with 48 million illnesses a year and little progress being made in reducing some pathogens, with Salmonella at unchecked levels for five years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta estimates that 1 in 6 Americans become ill for 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year, the report points out.

“As the number of hospitalizations and deaths reported by CDC show, foodborne illnesses can be much more severe that a simple upset stomach, as several foodborne illnesses can cause serious health problems and death,” U.S. PIRG added.

“Infection with a certain strand of E. coli bacteria can cause hemolytic uremic syndrome, which causes kidney dysfunction and sometimes kidney failure,” the report continues. “Certain types of Shigella, Salmonella, and Campylobacter bacteria can trigger the onset of reactive or chronic arthritis.”

The report also noted that Listeria monocytogenes puts babies in utero at risk of developmental delays, paralysis or blindness.

In addition, U.S PIRG said the aggregated cost of foodborne illness has been estimated at $77.7 billion a year.

It examined all outbreaks and illnesses linked to food recalls during the 21-month period, finding 718 illnesses directly related to a recall in 2011 and 1,035 in 2012.

U.S. PIRG also used a cost of illness model developed by Professor Robert L Scharff to allocate costs by state. “The model accounts for health-related costs associated with foodborne illness such as hospital costs, lab work and inpatient and outpatient care and also (the model) incorporates a value for pain and suffering and lost productivity,” reads the report.

“Our food safety practices are falling short, “ says U.S. PIRG. It says that except for E. coli, the country is failing to meet national objectives set by the Healthy People 2010 goals. “The incidence of Salmonella was three times the 2010 national health objective target, which is especially alarming as Salmonella causes the majority of hospitalizations and deaths from foodborne disease,” it says.

U.S. PIRG says food imports are contributing to the high rate of foodborne illnesses in the country. It pointed to the 2008 Government Accountability Office (GAO) discovering that the U.S. Food and Drug Administation (FDA) inspected only 153 of 189,000 registered foreign food facilities.

“More must be done to protect Americans from the hazards of unsafe food,” says U.S. PIRG. It calls enactment of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) a step forward, but notes the problems that have occurred in funding and rulemaking.

The new law reforms FDA operations, while leaving about 15 other federal agencies involved in food safety unchanged, says the report. For example, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service continues without the mandatory recall authority that the FSMA gives to FDA.

U.S. PIRG does hail the additional powers given to FDA by the act, including more control over imports. It says more must be done to bring down the number of recalls, including focusing on funding and timely implementation of FSMA.

In the document, the group also called for more frequent unaccounted inspections of high-risk foods, more investigations into the causes of foodborne illnesses and more coordination among federal agencies.

t brandt
10/31/2012 10:40:41 AM

ps/ keep things in perspective: 300 million Americans eating 3 meals a day, 365 days a year = 328 Billion meals a year and, according to this article, 1753 illnesses are caused by recalled food. Statistically meaningless....How safe is safe enough? Haven't we reached the point of diminishing returns?...Stricter regulation only puts the little guy out of business allowing only the big guys to survive. But that's what BigGovt wants: control and it's easier to contol a few big guys than many little guys.

t brandt
10/31/2012 10:27:34 AM

Wrong. According to the CDC, official keeper of stats for such things, infection rates are stable, except for Salmonella, over the past decade. Note that Salmonella rates have increased as consumption of chicken (and beef has declined) over that time....Our food supply is safe. Cook your food properly and you won't get infected....


Fermentation Frenzy!

September 12-13, 2019
Seven Springs, Pa

Fermentation Frenzy! is produced by Fermentation magazine in conjunction with the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR. This one-and-a-half day event is jam-packed with fun and informative hands-on sessions.


Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Money-Saving Tips in Every Issue!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters

click me