The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), in collaboration with public health agencies, investigates foodborne illness associated with FSIS-regulated products to determine which specific products are making people sick so that these products can be removed from commerce to prevent additional illnesses.
Annual outbreak reports summarize information about outbreaks investigated during each fiscal year, including the number of outbreaks, pathogens, products, illnesses, and how many outbreaks resulted in product recalls. The annual reports also highlight lessons learned from outbreak after-action reviews.
Here is a summary of those findings for each of the three fiscal years prior federal FY 2020:
During FY 2017, the FSIS investigated eight outbreaks in coordination with local, state, and federal public health agencies. The outbreaks involved about 300 illnesses and more than 100 hospitalizations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention informed the FSIS about six of these outbreaks. Six of the outbreaks involved illnesses in more than one state.
Of the eight outbreaks investigated by the FSIS in FY 2017, Salmonella was the most common pathogen, followed by STEC and Listeria monocytogenes.
Serotypes involved in the FY 2017 Salmonella outbreaks included Enteritidis, Newport, and I 4,,12:i:-. Among the six Salmonella outbreaks, beef, chicken, and pork products were associated with illnesses.
Because of the lack of information for the six Salmonella outbreaks, the FSIS could not take further action on a product or recommend actions for consumers or industry.
There were two additional outbreaks investigated during FY 2017, one each caused by STEC and Listeria monocytogenes.
During FY 2018, the FSIS investigated 16 outbreaks in coordination with local, state, and federal public health agencies. The outbreaks involved about 1,400 illnesses and more than 400 hospitalizations.
State public health partners notified the FSIS most often — in 9 out of the 16 outbreaks for 56.3 percent. Ten, or 62.5 percent, of outbreaks involved illnesses in more than one state.
Of the 16 outbreaks investigated by the FSIS in FY 2018, Salmonella, at nine outbreaks for 56.3 percent, was the most common pathogen, followed by STEC (5 outbreaks or 31.3 percent), Clostridium and Salmonella ( one each, or 6.3 percent), and Listeria monocytogenes (1, or 6.3 percent).
Beef with 6 outbreaks was responsible for 37.5 percent, followed by chicken with 5 outbreaks for 31.3 percent. They were the most common food products of interest.
Serotypes involved in the FY 2018 Salmonella outbreaks included Newport, I 4,,12: I :-, Reading, Typhimurium, Infantis, Blockley, and Enteritidis.
The STEC outbreaks were caused by one or more of the following serogroups: O157: H7 and O26.
Six, or 37.5 percent of outbreaks led to a product recall. The FSIS requested that establishments recall products associated with outbreaks.
During FY 2019, the FSIS investigated 16 outbreaks in coordination with local, state, and federal public health agencies that involved about 1,000 illnesses and more than 175 hospitalizations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified the FSIS about 11 of the outbreaks, for 68.8 percent. Fifteen, or 93.8 percent, of the outbreaks involved illnesses in more than one state.
Of the 16 outbreaks investigated by the FSIS in FY 2019, Salmonella was responsible for 7, or 43.8 percent. It was the most common pathogen, followed by STEC with 6 outbreaks, 37.5 percent, and Listeria monocytogenes with 3, 18.8 percent.
Beef was involved in 6 outbreaks, or 37.5 percent, while chicken was involved in 4, or 25.0 percent. They were the most common food products of interest. Serotypes involved in the FY 2019 Salmonella outbreaks included Blockley, Enteritidis, Newport, Rissen, and Schwarzengrund.
The STEC outbreaks were caused by one or more of the following serogroups: O157: H7, O26, O103, and O121.
Three, of 18.8 percent, of outbreaks led to a product recall. The FSIS requests that establishments recall products associated with an outbreak.
Applied epidemiology staff in the Office of Public Health Science coordinates the agency’s response to foodborne illness outbreaks that may involve FSIS-regulated products.
This includes outbreaks that involve any of four foodborne pathogens that most frequently affect FSIS-regulated products — Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), Listeria monocytogenes (Lm), and Campylobacter.
The FSIS collects and evaluates epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback information to determine if there is an association between an FSIS-regulated product and human illnesses.
- Epidemiologic information includes details like the foods ill people ate, where they purchased these foods, and where they live.
- Laboratory information includes comparing bacteria from FSIS samples and samples from ill people to see if they are genetically similar or have similar characteristics.
- Traceback activities may include determining the location, e.g. grocery store, deli counter, or restaurant, where the product was sold or the source of a product e.g., the federally-inspected slaughter or processing facility. Depending on the evidence collected during an investigation,
FSIS may have enough detailed exposure and product information to take one or more actions to prevent additional illnesses. These actions may include requesting that a company remove the product from commerce and issuing a press release announcing that an establishment is voluntarily recalling product(s) linked to human illnesses or notifying the public of potential food safety concerns through the issuance of a public health alert.