May 26, 2024

CSPI Says Restaurants Pose Twice the Risk of Foodborne Outbreaks

Outbreak data analyzed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says that Americans are twice as likely to get food poisoning from restaurants than from food prepared at home. The review, which covers outbreaks from 2002 through 2011, is titled “Outbreak Alert! 2014”.

RestaurantThe worst outbreaks of that decade included a Campylobacter outbreak linked to pasteurized milk served to inmates at the California State Prisons. That sickened 1,644 people. In April 2008, Salmonella contaminated jalapeƱos and Serrano peppers and pepper products sickened 1,535 people in 42 states. And in 2011, Listeria-contamianted cantaloupe produced by Jensen Farms sickened 148 people in 28 states.

Overall, 1,610 outbreaks linked to restaurants sickened more than 28,000 people. In that same tie frame, 893 outbreaks linked to private homes caused almost 13,000 illnesses. The review also found that fewer outbreaks were solved by public health officials in that ten year time period. Other outbreaks included 313 workplace outbreaks that sickened 7,643 people, 224 banquet hall outbreaks that sickened 10,035, and prison or jail outbreaks that sickened 9,522 people.

Of 104 outbreaks linked to milk, 70% were caused by raw milk. That means that although fewer than 1% of consumers consume raw milk, they bear 70% of the burden of illnesses caused by milk-borne outbreaks. CSPI senior food safety attorney Sarah Klein said in a statement, “pasteurization of milk is one of the most important public health advances of the last 100 years, sparing countless people from infections and deaths caused by Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria. Consumers should avoid raw milk, and lawmaker should not expand its availability.” The report states that “unpasteurized, or raw, milk is an urgent public health risk.”

At the same time, there is a trend of decreased reporting of foodborne illness outbreaks. States reported 42% fewer outbreaks to the CDC in 2011 than they did in 2002. But that doesn’t translated to fewer Americans getting sick. The recession, influenza pandemics, and bioterrorism investments after 9/11 have directed state public health budgets away from foodborne illness outbreaks.

CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal said in a statement, “underreporting of outbreaks has reached epidemic proportions. yet the details gleaned from outbreak investigations provide essential information so public health officials can shape food safety policy and make science-based recommendations ton consumers. Despite the improvements in food safety policy in the past decade, far too many Americans are still getting sick, being hospitalized, or even dying due to contaminated food.”

What are the foods that are making people sick? Fresh produce, seafood, and packaged foods regulated by the FDA were responsible for more than twice as many solved outbreaks as meat and poultry products regulated by the USDA. Since the regulations mandated by the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 have been delayed, the FDA and USDA don’t have the authority they need to conduct more frequent inspections of food processing facilities and to require recalls.


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