ATLANTA, March 16 (UPI) -- U.S. foodborne disease outbreaks caused by imported food appeared to rise in 2009 and 2010, with fish being the most common source of illness, officials say.
Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, presented at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases in Atlanta, found 39 outbreaks and 2,348 illnesses were linked to imported food from 15 countries from 2005 to 2010. Of those outbreaks, nearly half occurred in 2009 and 2010.
Overall, fish -- associated with 17 outbreaks -- was the most common source of implicated imported foodborne disease outbreaks, followed by spices -- six outbreaks, including five from fresh or dried peppers. Nearly 45 percent of the imported foods causing outbreaks came from Asia, the report said.
"It's too early to say if the recent numbers represent a trend, but CDC officials are analyzing information from 2011 and will continue to monitor for these outbreaks in the future," lead author Hannah Gould, a CDC epidemiologist, said in a statement.
"As our food supply becomes more global, people are eating foods from all over the world, potentially exposing them to germs from all corners of the world, too," Gould said. "We saw an increased number of outbreaks due to imported foods during recent years, and more types of foods from more countries causing outbreaks."
The Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service found U.S. food imports grew from $41 billion in 1998 to $78 billion in 2007, with 85 percent of the seafood eaten in the United States imported.
Depending on the time of the year, as much as 60 percent of fresh produce is imported, while it is estimated about 16 percent of all food eaten in the United States is imported, the report said.