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CDC: Whether Your Food-Related Illness Gets Investigated Depends on Where You Live

From the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR):  Food Safety Epidemiology Capacity in State Health Departments — United States, 2010

December 23, 2011 / 60(50);1701-1704:

…In 2010, a total of 787 FTEs were working as foodborne disease epidemiologists in state, regional, and local health departments in the United States. Of these, 616.5 (78%) had an epidemiology-related degree or had completed some coursework in epidemiology; 170.5 (22%) had only on-the-job training or no formal epidemiology training (Table).

Formal education in epidemiology was highest at the state level, where most (73%) foodborne disease epidemiologists had an epidemiology degree. The proportion of personnel working as foodborne epidemiologists who had a nursing degree was substantially higher at the local level (19%) than at the regional (5%) or state (4%) level. States reported the need for an additional 304 FTEs to reach full program capacity, with the greatest demand (50% of need) for master’s-level epidemiologists…

Although states investigate foodborne disease outbreaks caused by numerous pathogens, they were more likely to investigate outbreaks associated with some pathogens than others. For specific pathogens, a history of investigating >75% of outbreaks was reported by the highest proportion of states for E. coli (86% of states), followed by Listeria (81%), Salmonella (78%), Campylobacter (73%), other foodborne pathogens (68%), and norovirus (55%). Conversely, a small but substantial proportion of states reported investigating <25% of outbreaks caused by these same pathogens:Campylobacter (16% of states), Listeria (13%), E. coli (10%), norovirus (7%) and Salmonella (4%).

States were more likely to obtain stool specimens than food samples as part of foodborne outbreak investigations. Relatively few states reported always collecting either stool specimens (five states) or food (one state) samples associated with foodborne disease outbreaks; 33 states collected stool specimens in 50%-99% of outbreaks, and 36 states collected food samples in <50% of outbreaks. Thirty-nine states reported having performed 1-10 tracebacks of commercial products during the past 3 years; relatively few (seven states) had conducted ≥11 tracebacks, and three states completed no tracebacks of commercial products during that period.

All respondents reported barriers to investigating foodborne or enteric outbreaks. Barriers reported as either moderate or substantial by states included delayed notification of the outbreak (reported by 41 states), lack of sufficient number of foodborne safety staff members (29), lower prioritization of investigations (27), lack of ability to pay overtime (20), lack of adequate epidemiology expertise (12), difficulties working with in-state agencies (eight), constraints related to administrative support (eight), and difficulties working with other state or federal agencies (five)…

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“CDC: Whether your food-related illness gets investigated depends on which state you live in (MMWR)” was first posted on Maryn McKenna’s blog, The Further Adventures of Germ Girl, on Dec. 22, 2011. 

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