State health departments conducted fewer complete foodborne illness investigations in 2007 than in any other year in the past decade, according to a recent study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

“The decline in fully-investigated outbreaks could reflect a serious gap in state public health spending,” said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. “Fewer outbreaks were fully investigated by state public health departments in 2007 than in any of the previous 10 years–and a smaller percentage of outbreaks were fully characterized than in any of the previous 7 years.”

CSPI found that states reported 33 percent fewer fully investigated outbreaks to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2007 than in 2002 and, according to the group, this drop is not an indication that outbreaks aren’t occurring. 

Nearly 1,100 outbreaks were reported in 2007 to CDC, but only in 378 did states complete the investigation to identify both a food and the pathogen.

Fewer completed investigations means that CDC and other public health agencies receive incomplete information, which affects their ability to identify emerging foodborne illness risks and trends, according to CSPI.

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The findings were published in CSPI’s latest Outbreak Alert!, a report that analyzes state and CDC foodborne illness data. The organization has been publishing Outbreak Alert! for over 10 years. Though the publication is a helpful resource for public health officials and consumers alike, CSPI is quick to point out that the data in the reports “represent just the tip of a much larger problem.”

“The vast majority of foodborne illnesses are undiagnosed and most are never reported to state officials,” said CSPI in a statement released this week. “For those that come to their attention, state officials may lack the resources to track down the cause of most illnesses and outbreaks, and are not required to report foodborne illness outbreaks to CDC.”