By Chris Adams
Every year, about one in six Americans becomes sick from food-borne infections – and while the safety trends for some pathogens are good, outbreaks are still a regular occurrence in communities across the country.
Dr. Robert Tauxe, a division leader at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, led National Press Foundation fellows though an overview of the nation’s food safety system, detailing how his agency and others pinpoint food contamination outbreaks – and what they do to try to prevent them.
Overall each year, he said, 48 million people in the U.S. become sick from foodborne illnesses, 128,000 people are hospitalized because of it, and 3,000 people die. About 800 foodborne outbreaks are reported annually.
There have been some successes in curtailing food illnesses – in the past decade, for example, infections from E. coli O157 have decreased significantly – but other pathogens have seen flat or increased prevalence. Infections from Vibrio – tied to eating raw or undercooked shellfish – are up significantly over the past decade.
“This is not ever going to be a job that is finished,” Tauxe said of the battle against food illnesses.
He described the detective work that goes into understanding an outbreak – “Investigative reporting is not all that different from what we do,” he told the journalists. And he said that the latest technological advances mean that this year “could be the tipping point” in the effort to crack down on food diseases.
Among the other resources he pointed journalists to:
- CDC prevalence reports, on different pathogens;
- Information on significant pathogens such as E. coli, salmonella and listeria.
- A description the CDC investigative tools FoodNet and PulseNet, both of which play vital roles in efforts to track down and understand foodborne illness outbreaks.
- An overview from the CDC on foodborne outbreak surveillance;
- An overview from the CDC on the burden of foodborne illnesses.