Most Food Poisoning Outbreaks Go Unreported, Study Says

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) just issued its report card on how the nation is handling <"">foodborne illness outbreaks. The CSPI said it looked at the 50 states and the District of Columbia for its report entitled “All Over the Map.”

The report indicates wide variances, which points to how states without enhanced “detection and reporting systems” are not fully reporting foodborne illnesses, said CSPI, which drew on 10 years worth of information collected from the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the CSPI’s Alert! Database. The Center then, using letter grading, created profiles, by state, it said, using the two states best known for their strong investigation and reporting as the baseline: Oregon and Minnesota.

Both states have renowned laboratories and public health departments and are known to quickly interview potential foodborne illness patients, said the CSPI. The two are responsible for reporting nine (Oregon) and eight (Minnesota) outbreaks per million residents annually and were among five other states—Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Washington, and Wyoming—receiving an A from the Center, it said. Meanwhile, 14 states only reported one outbreak per million people: Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia—said the CSPI.

Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, and Vermont received Bs; each reported six-to-seven outbreaks per million; Alabama, Alaska, California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Wisconsin received Cs and reported four-to-five outbreaks per million; and Delaware, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia received Ds and each only reported two or three outbreaks per million said CSPI.

“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. “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,” DeWaal added.

The CSPI noted that high grades conferred on states with more outbreaks was in response to those states having improved detection and reporting systems in place, adding that states receiving Ds and Fs likely do not have sufficient funding for public heath services. The CSPI also pointed out that the percentage of solved outbreaks has seen a decline in the ten-year period from 1998 to 2007.

“Hopefully, this report will stimulate discussions among public health officials, food safety policy makers, legislators and the public about the value of surveillance,” said Craig Hedberg, Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, quoted CSPI. “Ensuring that all states benefit from effective foodborne disease surveillance is a long range goal. A network of Regional Centers of Excellence can develop and demonstrate the best practices that have helped Minnesota and Oregon maintain their excellent records of foodborne disease surveillance and outbreak investigation,” Hedberg pointed out.

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