The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington non-profit group, said it analyzed "solved" outbreaks -- investigators determine a food and a pathogen caused the illness -- of foodborne illness over a 10-year period. The group found more than 1,610 outbreaks in restaurants sickened more than 28,000 people, while 893 outbreaks linked to private homes caused nearly 13,000 cases of foodborne illnesses.
CSPI's Outbreak Alert! database includes 7,461 outbreaks of foodborne illness from 1990 to 2011 that sickened 98,399 people.
Federal health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans -- or 48 million people -- get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die due to foodborne diseases.
Although the meat-related foodborne outbreaks such as the Jack in the Box ground beef E. coli outbreak might get the most headlines, fresh produce, seafood and packaged foods were responsible for more than twice as many solved outbreaks as meat and poultry products.
Caroline Smith DeWaal, CSPI food safety director, said the group also documented decreased reporting of foodborne illness outbreaks. Forty-two percent or fewer outbreaks were reported by the states to the CDC -- but fewer reported outbreaks doesn't mean fewer getting sick.
The Great Recession, influenza pandemics and post-Sept. 11, 2001, bioterrorism investments all diverted state public health budgets and attention away from foodborne outbreaks, DeWaal said.
"Underreporting of outbreaks has reached epidemic proportions," DeWaal said. "Yet the details gleaned from outbreak investigations provide essential information so public health officials can shape food safety policy and make science-based recommendations to consumers."
[The Center for Science in the Public Interest]