This year saw the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issue notices on 11 multi-state foodborne illness outbreaks, ranging from ground beef to strawberries.
The Food and Drug Administration’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation Network (CORE) investigated 28 outbreaks, with three of those investigations remaining open as of Dec. 28. For 14 of the FDA investigations a specific food source was not determined.
The discrepancy between the numbers from CDC and FDA is likely because the CDC generally only posts outbreak notices after a specific food source has been identified. Also, the CDC only serves as the lead investigative entity on multi-state outbreaks. For single-state outbreaks, state and local agencies are the investigators, with the CDC sometimes providing secondary assistance, which does not result in the federal agency posting an outbreak notice.
Also possibly responsible for the different number of outbreaks being reported by the FDA and CDC is that the FDA does not publicly report where outbreak patients live, so it is not possible for the public to tell whether an outbreak involves more than one state. Presumably, the FDA shares such information with the CDC’s outbreak investigators.
At least two multi-state outbreaks occurred that the CDC did not include in its official listing for 2022. One involved more than 500 people who reported “adverse events” related to eating Lucky Charms breakfast cereal. The FDA investigated the outbreak, but no recall was issued. The investigation was closed.
The other multi-state outbreak not listed by the CDC involved four babies who were fed infant formula produced by an Abbott Nutrition plant in Michigan. Two of the babies died. The pathogen involved was cronobacter, but the company continues to deny that any of its products are related to illnesses or deaths. However, the production plant was closed down for months for deep cleaning and was only allowed to reopen under the strict regulation of the FDA.
In all outbreaks, the CDC cautions that the number of patients is likely much higher than those reported because symptoms can mimic other illnesses and many people are not tested for specific foodborne pathogens. Also, some people may recover without seeking medical attention.
The CDC issued notices on the following 11 outbreaks in 2022.
A norovirus outbreak linked to raw oysters from a specific harvest area in Texas had sickened 298 people as of Dec. 20. The states with patients are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. The investigation remained active as of Dec. 28. Officials in several states initiated recalls of oysters harvested in a specific area in the Galveston, TX, area. The CDC is continuing trace-forward efforts to try to determine where the oysters were shipped. Freezing does not kill norovirus, and they could still be served as “raw” after being thawed. The CDC has not reported if any patients have been hospitalized or died.
A two-state outbreak of infections from Listeria monocytogenes remains under investigation after having first been reported by the CDC on Nov. 17. At that time the CDC reported that two people in two states had become infected. Both have required hospitalization. Investigators are working to identify specific brands of enoki mushrooms linked to these illnesses. A wide variety of imported enoki mushrooms sold under various brands were recalled in 2022 because of Listeria contamination.
A six-state outbreak of infections from Listeria monocytogenes has been traced to deli meats and cheeses and remains under investigation. Sixteen people have been infected, with 13 of them requiring hospitalization. One patient has died and one pregnant patient lost her baby. The CDC reported the outbreak on Nov. 9 this year. Sick people’s samples were collected from April 17, 2021, to Sept. 29, 2022. The CDC did not identify a single source of the Listeria but did find that five of the patients bought deli meats and cheeses from NetCost Market, an East Coast grocery chain. Other delis and grocery stores were not ruled out as sources. “A contaminated food likely introduced the outbreak strain of Listeria into delis in multiple states,” the CDC reported. The CDC and FDA routinely remind deli owners that their equipment can easily harbor Listeria and should be cleaned regularly. The CDC suggested that people at high risk of infection, such as pregnant women, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems should avoid deli meats and cheeses.
A four-state outbreak of Salmonella Litchfield was declared over on Dec. 14. The outbreak sickened 39 people and resulted in 15 hospitalizations. No deaths were reported. Investigators found that fresh fish sold by Mariscos Bahia Inc. was responsible for the illnesses. The CDC first reported the outbreak on Oct. 20. Illnesses started on dates ranging from June 14 to Oct. 23 this year. An FDA investigation traced the source of fresh, raw salmon eaten by sick people back to Mariscos Bahia, Inc. On Oct. 20, Mariscos Bahia Inc. recalled fresh salmon, Chilean seabass, halibut, tuna, and swordfish.
A six-state outbreak of infections from E. coli O121 that was first reported by the FDA on Oct. 12 was reported by the CDC on Oct. 7. The outbreak was declared over as of Dec. 1. There were 24 people confirmed infected with five having required hospitalization. Illnesses started on dates ranging from July 13, 2022, to Oct. 24, 2022. Frozen Earth Grown brand Vegan Traditional Falafel and Garlic & Herb Falafel sold at Aldi stores was found to be the source of the pathogen. On Oct. 7, 2022, Cuisine Innovations of Lakewood, NJ, recalled the implicated products.
A six-state outbreak of infections from Listeria monocytogenes, which was declared over on Dec. 9, sickened six people with five of them requiring hospitalization. Investigators found that cheese made by Old Europe Cheese, Inc. made people in this outbreak sick. On Sept. 30, Oct 4, and 5 the company called several varieties and brands of brie and camembert cheeses. Some of the cheese had expiration dates of Dec. 14, but the CDC declared the outbreak over despite the fact that it can take up to 70 days for symptoms of Listeria infection to develop.
A six-state outbreak of infections from E. coli O157:H7 sickened seven people, with six of them requiring hospitalization. Investigators found that ground beef in Hello Fresh meal kits was responsible for the outbreak. The outbreak was declared over on Oct. 28. Illnesses started on dates ranging from June 8 to Aug. 17. There was concern that consumers may have had the frozen ground beef in their freezers well after the last reported illness onset, so the investigation was kept open for quite some time after the last illness was reported.
A six-state outbreak of infections from E. Coli O157:H7 sickened 109 people, with 52 of them requiring hospitalization. No one died. The illnesses were associated with people who ate sandwiches from Wendy’s restaurants that had romaine lettuce on them. The CDC stopped short of making a specific connection between the romaine and the illnesses. “. . .this outbreak ended before enough information could be gathered to determine the source of the outbreak,” the CDC reported. Illnesses started on dates ranging from July 26 to Aug. 17. The outbreak was declared over on Oct. 4.
An 11-state outbreak of infections from Listeria monocytogenes sickened 28 people, hospitalizing 27 and killing one. Seven illnesses were among pregnant people or newborns. One illness resulted in a pregnancy loss. Illnesses started on dates ranging from Jan. 24, 2021, to June 24, 2022. The source was traced to ice cream made by Big Olaf’s Creamery in Florida. State testing showed 16 of 17 flavors of the ice cream were contaminated with the pathogen. Florida state officials shut down the business. The recalled ice cream was sold or served at Big Olaf retailers, restaurants, and senior homes in Florida, and in one location in Fredericksburg, OH. The outbreak was declared over on Nov. 7.
A four-state outbreak of hepatitis A infections was traced to strawberries. The outbreak sickened 19 people and resulted in 13 hospitalizations. Fresh organic strawberries branded as FreshKampo or HEB were determined to be the source of the pathogen. The fresh organic strawberries were imported from Baja California, a state in northern Mexico. Illnesses started on dates ranging from March 28, 2022, to May 6, 2022. The CDC closed its investigation on Aug. 14. The strawberries were likely sold at retailers, including, but not limited to HEB, Kroger, Safeway, Sprouts Farmers Market, Trader Joe’s, Walmart, Weis Markets, and WinCo Foods.
A 17-state outbreak from Salmonella Senftenberg sickened 21 people, resulting in four hospitalizations. The source was determined to be Jif brand peanut butter, which was recalled by the J.M. Smucker Co. The recall resulted in numerous downstream recalls of products that had peanut butter as an ingredient. Illnesses started on dates ranging from Feb. 20, 2022, through May 24, 2022. The outbreak was declared over on July 27.
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