FDA Looks to Develop Improved Method For Attributing Foodborne Illness

A new report by the FDA, USDA and CDC finds that at least 80 percent of E. coli illnesses between 1998 and 2012 were linked to beef and vegetable row crops, mainly leafy vegetables.

The Food and Drug Administration, USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention met today to update stakeholders on their efforts to improve foodborne illness source attribution.

The federal agencies have been collaborating on ways to better analyze outbreak data to determine which foods are responsible for illnesses related to four major foodborne bacteria and have since released a report on the new method.

The report, titled, "Foodborne Illness Source Attribution Estimates for Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157 (E. coli O157), Listeria monocytogenes (Lm), and Campylobacter using Outbreak Surveillance Data," focuses on ways to estimate the most common food sources responsible for the specific foodborne illnesses.

The report summarizes the methods and results, including estimated attribution percentages for the four pathogens. The CDC estimated that, together, the four pathogens cause 1.9 million cases of foodborne illness outbreaks in the U.S. each year. 

Data in the report looked at nearly 1,000 outbreaks that occurred from 1998 to 2012 to help assess which categories of foods were most responsible for making people sick. The agencies divided food into 17 categories for the analysis. 

Some of the key findings of the report include:

  • At least 80 percent of E. coli O157 illnesses were attributed to beef and vegetable row crops, mainly leafy vegetables.
  • Salmonella outbreaks were broadly attributed across food commodities, which 77 percent of them related to seeded vegetables (like tomatoes), eggs, fruit, chicken, beef, pork and sprouts.
  • Approximately 75 percent of Campylobacter illnesses were linked to dairy (66 percent) and chicken (8 percent). Most of the dairy outbreaks used in the analysis were related to raw milk or cheese made from raw milk.
  • More than 80 percent of Listeria illnesses were linked to fruit (50 percent) and dairy (31 percent). The data was sparse for Listeria, and the estimate for fruit reflects the impact of a single large cantaloupe outbreak in 2011.

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