Atlanta, GA—Data on outbreaks of foodborne illness occurring in 2008 in the United States have been finalized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and released in a report. Officially titled “Surveillance for Foodborne Disease Outbreaks—United States, 2008,” and appearing in an edition of CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the document indicates that for the most recent year with complete disease data, 1,034 separate foodborne outbreaks were reported.

Statistics culled from all reported outbreaks included 23,152 cases of illness, 1,276 hospitalizations and 22 deaths. Among outbreaks with one laboratory-confirmed cause, norovirus was the most common culprit at 49% of outbreaks and 46% of illnesses, while Salmonella came in second at 23% of outbreaks and 31% of illnesses. For those outbreaks attributed to just one food commodity, poultry (15%), beef (14%) and finfish (14%) were most often cited.

One limitation of these annual findings is the small proportion of reported foodborne illnesses that are able to be associated with specific outbreaks. According to L. Hannah Gould, Ph.D., M.S., epidemiologist for the Outbreak Surveillance and Analytics Team at CDC, changing state resources and competing priorities can affect the capacity of local authorities to detect and investigate outbreaks. “Consumers can notify their health department when they think they may be part of an outbreak of which health officials may not be aware. Such calls from consumers and health care providers can lead to timely investigations, which can result in identifying ongoing hazards,” Gould says.

On the prevention side, Gould states, “There are many important things that farmers, grocery stores and places that make, sell or serve food can do to help prevent foodborne illness,” adding that it is always important for consumers and food purveyors alike to properly clean, separate, cook and chill food as necessary prior to consumption.

In related news, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has added six additional strains of the pathogen E. coli to the list of adulterants prohibited in non-intact raw beef. Raw ground beef and tenderized steaks containing bacteria from the E. coli serogroups O26, O103, O45, O111, O121 and O145 (now in addition to the already prohibited O157:H) will not be allowed to enter the market. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will begin a testing program to identify these strains in the products it examines.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, November 2011 (online 9/14/11)