are reporting and solving fewer foodborne illness outbreaks compared to 10 years ago, according to a new report by the nonprofit consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). CSPI’s report analyzed 10 years of data on state outbreaks reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) between 2003 and 2012. The group found that from 2009 to 2012, the number of outbreaks states reported to CDC decreased by about 30 percent compared to the six previous years. Perhaps even more concerning is that the rate of solved outbreaks — those traced back to a definite food source — fell from 41 percent in 2003 to 29 percent in 2012. The report also found serious variations in how well states report outbreaks. While some states reported six or more outbreaks per million residents, many others reported one or fewer per million. That huge variation suggests a difference in how states prioritize public health. High rates of outbreak reporting suggest a strong public health system, while lower reporting rates may suggest a difference in funding, infrastructure or staffing, CSPI said. Areas known to have greater support for foodborne illness surveillance were shown to have reported a higher rate of outbreaks. For example, the 10 areas of the country covered by CDC’s FoodNet database network identified a larger number of illnesses and outbreaks compared to non-FoodNet areas. “Our results suggest that many states may lack adequate funding and support for public health services,” CSPI said. In some cases, neighboring states reported drastically different numbers of outbreaks. When adjusted for population, Florida reported fives times as many outbreaks as Alabama, and Maryland reported four times as many outbreaks as West Virginia. High reporting rates can prevent foodborne illnesses, CSPI said. If local health officials are doing more to detect contaminated food and problematic restaurants, the chances are greater that they will catch outbreaks and mitigate their spread. Six states reported eight or more outbreaks per million residents, suggesting especially strong public health programs:

  • Oregon
  • Wyoming
  • Kansas
  • North Dakota
  • Minnesota
  • Hawaii

“States that aggressively investigate outbreaks and report them to CDC can help nail down the foods that are responsible for making people sick,” said CSPI Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaal in a statement. “But when states aren’t detecting outbreaks, interviewing victims, identifying suspect food sources, or connecting with federal officials, outbreaks can grow larger and more frequent, putting more people at risk.”