October 17, 2021

When Good Food Goes Bad: The Recommendations

The Center for Biosecurity of UPMC has developed a report on strengthening the U.S. response to foodborne illness outbreaks. Since 40,000,000 people in this country get sick from foodborne contaminants every year, causing 128,000 hospitalizations and more than 3,000 deaths, some improvement to the current system is warranted. For the first part of this story, see When Good Food Goes Bad: The Problems.

Woman's Torso Food PoisoningAfter detailing ten major issues with the current foodborne illness prevention and surveillance system, the authors have developed five recommendations. First, they say that the government should fund the development of next-generation technologies for rapidly diagnosing foodborne illness. Those tools need to incorporate culturing pathogens so that facilities such as PulseNET can keep accumulating different species of bacteria that cause illness. The newest generation of tests, while providing faster results, does not culture the bacteria, so public health is losing a valuable tool in the fight against foodborne illness.

Second, Congress should restore funding to state health departments. The authors state “this is a small but important investment relative to the substantial health and economic losses caused by foodborne illness outbreaks, which are estimated to be at least $77 billion per year. A $50 million increase in funding, less than 0.1% of the cost of illnesses, would increase our ability to respond to and solve outbreaks.

Third, the U.S. should develop an outbreak response that uses expertise and data in the private sector. Greater information exchanges will only make our response to outbreaks better. They state, “state and local public health agencies need direct connections to the private sector.”

Fourth, Congress should adequately fund and agencies should fully implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, which was signed into law two years ago. That Act has been delayed by funding shortages and delayed rule making, while foodborne illness outbreaks continue.

And finally, the government should fully integrate existing illness and foodborne pathogen surveillance efforts. There are many separate systems, but they should be combined to provide a better understanding of how, why, and when foodborne illness outbreaks occur. Healthcare providers need to be brought into the mix, with better, more complete, and timelier reporting of illnesses so outbreaks can be identified more quickly.

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