In a new study from Temple University, researchers highlight the need for an interstate system to track and manage foodborne illnesses.


In the past month, two multi-state foodborne illness outbreaks have been reported, 23 people in 10 states have become ill with Salmonella infections after eating contaminated alfalfa sprouts and 13 people in five states became ill with E. coli infections after eating romaine lettuce. Earlier this year, more than 238 people in 44 states contracted Salmonella from red and black pepper.


Since 1998, the number of widespread foodborne disease outbreaks has risen nearly 28 percent.


Public health professor Jennifer Ibrahim says it could be because there is a breakdown in communication between state governments, allowing outbreaks to spread to several states in a short period of time.


“As interstate transport of food products is a routine part of the food industry, it is imperative for state governments to have systems in place to detect, respond and coordinate with neighboring states to ensure a swift response to minimize morbidity and perhaps mortality,” she said in a statement from the university.


Ibrahim and Fanta Waterman Purayidathil, a public health PhD student, presented research at this year’s National Environmental Health Association meeting on June 7 stating that foodborne disease outbreaks that span multiple states lead to nearly twice the number of hospitalizations and deaths than outbreaks within states.


Through inspections, tracing, prevention programs, and public education, there have been federal efforts to modify the existing food safety infrastructure. For example, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act requires food facilities to evaluate hazards and implement preventive measures, and allows the Secretary of Health and Human Services to suspend a facility’s registration if it fails to do so.


However Ibrahim notes there is still a clear need for a more streamlined approach to handling foodborne illness at the state level.


As part of Temple’s Public Law Research Program, housed at the Beasley School of Law, Ibrahim is working to link existing state level food safety laws with health outcomes as a result of foodborne illness, using the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s new OutbreakNet Foodborne Outbreak Online Database.


“Multistate outbreaks are associated with higher rates of hospitalization and death, posing a great risk if these outbreaks are not identified and addressed quickly and effectively,” she said.

This story, and the statement by Temple University, originally incorrectly referred to the Secretary of Agriculture, the FDA bill would give that authority to the Secretary of Health and Human Services.