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Government Reports Foodborne Illness Stats for 2009-2010

CDC reports 299 outbreaks; raw milk rising as cause

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have analyzed data on all foodborne illness outbreaks that occurred in 2009 and 2010, pinpointing the pathogens and foods that were most frequently the source of outbreaks. While many figures matched those from previous years, CDC found that outbreaks linked to raw dairy had increased, and the number of Campylobacter outbreaks linked to food had dropped.

“Public health, regulatory, and food industry professionals can use this information when creating targeted control strategies along the farm-to-table continuum for specific agents, specific foods, and specific pairs of agents and foods,” said CDC, in the report published last week in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). “This information also supports efforts to promote safe food-handling practices among food workers and the public.”

Here’s a look at some of the data gleaned from 2009 and 2010:

Among the 790 outbreaks that were laboratory confirmed, norovirus, which can be foodborne or pass person to person, remains the most common, accounting for 42 percent of outbreaks and 23 deaths. Salmonella came in second, accounting for 30 percent of outbreaks.

Beef remains a common source (blamed for 13 percent of outbreaks), next is dairy (12 percent), then fish (12 percent) and poultry (11 percent). The commodities in the 299 outbreaks that were tied to the most illnesses were eggs (27 percent of illnesses), beef (11 percent) and poultry (10 percent).

CDC noted that the large number of dairy outbreaks were due to the increasing popularity of raw dairy products in certain states that permit the sale of unpasteurized dairy: “The large number of outbreaks caused by unpasteurized dairy products is consistent with findings that more outbreaks occur in states that permit the sale of unpasteurized dairy products; 60% of states permit sales of raw milk in some form, according to a 2011 survey by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.”

Of the 29,444 outbreak-related illnesses reported, 1,184 (4 percent) resulted in hospitalization. Salmonella caused the most outbreak-related hospitalizations with 583 (49 percent), followed by STEC with 190 (16 percent) and norovirus with 109 (9 percent).

Outbreaks caused by Listeria resulted in the highest proportion of persons hospitalized (82 percent), followed by Clostridium botulinum (67 percent), and paralytic shellfish poisoning outbreaks (67 percent). Among the 23 deaths, 22 were attributed to bacterial etiologies (nine to Listeria monocytogenes, five Salmonella, four STEC O157, three Clostridium perfringens, and one Shigella), and one to norovirus.

The pathogen-commodity pairs responsible for the most hospitalizations were Salmonella in vine-stalk vegetables (88 hospitalizations), STEC O157 in beef (46), and Salmonella in sprouts (41). The pathogen-commodity pairs responsible for the most deaths were STEC O157 in beef (three deaths), and Salmonella in pork and Listeria in dairy (two each).

Thirty-eight multistate outbreaks were reported (16 in 2009 and 22 in 2010). Twenty-one were caused by Salmonella, 15 by STEC (13 O157, one O145, and one O26), and two by Listeria. The pathogen responsible was isolated from an implicated food in 11 multistate outbreaks.

Five of the multistate outbreaks were caused by Salmonella (in alfalfa sprouts [two outbreaks], ground turkey, shell eggs, and a frozen entrée [one each]). Six were caused by STEC (in ground beef [two outbreaks], unpasteurized Gouda cheese, multiple unpasteurized cheeses, hazelnuts, and cookie dough [one each]).

Among the 766 outbreaks with a known single setting where food was consumed, 48 percent were caused by food consumed in a restaurant or deli, and 21 percent were caused by food consumed in a private home.

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