The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has released its outbreak report for fiscal year 2023 and detailed the six investigations carried out during that time.

The report covers Oct. 1, 2022, to Sept. 2023 and provides information about outbreaks that sickened more than 100 people with more than 30 hospitalizations.

“While investigating outbreaks is crucial to protect public health, it is important to note that outbreak-associated illnesses represent a tiny proportion of all foodborne illnesses. Consumers who are sick with a foodborne illness may not seek medical care or be tested for foodborne pathogens. Those that are tested may not be linked to other similar illnesses to initiate an outbreak investigation,” according to the annual report.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that for every confirmed Salmonella infection, 29 go undetected. For E. coli O157:H7, the multiplier is 26.

Of the six outbreaks investigated, three were caused by various types of Salmonella and two by E. coli O157:H7. The sixth investigation involved a report of botulism that included commercially canned potted meat containing chicken and pork as a potential source. It was later found that the botulism cases were unrelated to food products.

Of the six outbreaks investigated by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), five were reported to the agency by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A state agency reported the sixth outbreak. Five of the outbreaks involved patients in more than one state.

Beef products were the food products of interest for the five Salmonella and E. coli outbreaks investigated in the fiscal year 2023.

The FSIS reports that none of the outbreak investigations in fiscal year 2023 led to any recalls or Public Health Advisories. FSIS may ask an establishment to voluntarily recall a product from commerce to protect public health when the product is found to be associated with an outbreak.

FSIS may issue a Public Health Advisory when the agency determines that a meat, poultry, or egg product may be associated with human illness. However, no adulterated product remains in commerce. FSIS may also issue a PHA when the agency cannot determine what specific regulated product is implicated by the illnesses and thus adulterated.

In fiscal year 2023, FSIS investigated several outbreaks potentially associated with ground beef, including beef ground and packaged at retail stores. Ground beef produced in retail stores can complicate investigations if retail records do not identify the specific suppliers of beef that were ground and later purchased by ill people. 

Retailers that grind their beef are required to keep records of all ground beef produced in-store. According to the FSIS report, these records are crucial for investigators to identify potentially contaminated products that may be linked to an outbreak and for FSIS to take action to prevent additional illnesses.

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