• The Acheson Group

CDC Surveillance Report Shows Areas We Need to Improve

Updated: Nov 28, 2018


CDC Surveillance Report Shows Areas We Need to Improve

During 2009 and 2015 foodborne illness outbreaks caused by Listeria, Salmonella, and Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) were responsible for 82% of all hospitalizations and 82% of deaths reported, according to CDC’s recently published Surveillance for Foodborne Disease Outbreaks.

Before you say, “Oh, that was in the past. We’re doing better now,” you may want to reread last week’s newsletter on the recalls in Q2 2018 in which bacterial contamination was the cause for 99.2% of all FDA food recalls based on units recalled. While that is highly attributable to a single recall, a review of recalls since the beginning of 2017 still shows an average of 44.1% of all recalled units attributable to bacterial contamination. 


When looking at the total number of recalls, we do see that the number in Q1 and Q2 2018 (285) was a bit lower than that of the same period in 2015 (299). But, if you look at the latest full year of statistics (2017) compiled by Stericyclecompared with 2015, the story is a bit different: 2017 saw 686 food recalls while 2015 had only 494.


So, unfortunately, we’re not necessarily doing better if you use recalls as the measuring stick. Arguments can certainly be made that more contamination is being detected, both due to better technology and better and more sampling – by both facilities and the regulatory agencies, but the fact remains that we continue to produce food with the potential to be contaminated with bacteria. As the CDC report states, “Known foodborne disease agents are estimated to cause approximately 9.4 million illnesses each year in the United States.”  And “only a small subset of illnesses are associated with recognized outbreaks.”


Thus, even with the number of recalls being conducted, we’re not detecting all the food that is causing illness. Acknowledging that restaurant and home preparation can be the cause of a high number of foodborne illnesses, there is still a great deal of room for improvement in the production industry, both in detecting and preventing contamination and in educating consumers (and customers) in proper preparation. 


Following are some of the significant statistics of the CDC report. During 2009–2015:

  • 5,760 outbreaks resulted in 100,939 illnesses, 5,699 hospitalizations, and 145 deaths. 

  • Outbreaks impacted all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. 

  • Among 2,953 outbreaks with a single confirmed etiology:

  • Norovirus caused 1,130 outbreaks [38%] and outbreak-associated illnesses (27,623 illnesses [41%]); Salmonella caused 896 outbreaks (30%) and 23,662 illnesses (35%). 

  • Listeria, Salmonella, and Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) were responsible for 82% of all hospitalizations and 82% of deaths reported.

Among 1,281 outbreaks in which the food reported could be classified into a single food category:

Food outbreaks - percentages

The food categories responsible for the most outbreak-associated illnesses were:

Food categories responsible for most outbreak illnesses

The statistics lead to some interesting interpretations and industry needs. The most critical public health actions cited by CDC are targeting Listeria, Salmonella, and STEC intervention efforts, and improving the safety of chicken, pork, and seeded vegetables.


Both of these feed back into my earlier comment, which I will reiterate here: there is room for industry improvement in both detecting and preventing contamination and in educating consumers (and customers) in proper preparation. For example, we, in the industry, know the high potential for chicken, by its very nature, to be contaminated with Salmonella – thus the need for thorough cooking.


But are we doing everything we can to create and apply technologies to reduce this potential – I know some suppliers of poultry are? Are we doing everything we can to prevent cross-contamination of raw meats with finished or no-kill-step foods? Can we do a better job of labeling products that contain chicken (or other raw meats) with full, easy-to-find, easy-to-follow preparation instructions and warnings?


Listeria continues to be a common cause of recalls too and raises a whole range of other questions around the importance of environmental control programs and the regulatory focus in this space.


We, at TAG, will do our part to continue to work with industry to help manage the changing times and the shift in recalls.   There is still a lot of opportunity and the food industry is constantly working to manage risks and still make a living.  Life is not easy in the food world and if you are trying to figure out the right balance we at TAG would love to help you be part of the solution.

About The Acheson Group (TAG)

Led by Former FDA Associate Commissioner for Foods Dr. David Acheson, TAG is a food safety consulting group that provides guidance and expertise worldwide for companies throughout the food supply chain. With in-depth industry knowledge combined with real-world experience, TAG's team of food safety experts help companies more effectively mitigate risk, improve operational efficiencies, and ensure regulatory and standards compliance. Learn more at: www.AchesonGroup.com

CONTACT US

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