The Centers for Disease Control on Tuesday identified some types of produce, as well as dairy products and poultry as foods that are most often linked to foodborne illnesses.
The new paper, "Attribution of Foodborne Illnesses, Hospitalizations, and Deaths to Food Commodities By Using Outbreak Data, United States, 1998-2008," was published in the Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal.
The paper found that 46% of food illnesses to can be attributed to produce while more food-related deaths were attributed to poultry than to any other commodity.
Further, an estimated 26,000 annual hospitalizations were attributed to land animal commodities, 24,000 to plant commodities, and 3,000 to aquatic animal commodities.
Dairy commodities accounted for the second most frequent food source for infections causing illnesses and deaths. The paper authors note that the prominence of dairy in the study model reflects a "relatively high number of reported outbreaks associated with raw milk."
Study highlights industry commitment to food safety
Produce group United Fresh reminds consumers that the report should serve as a reason to observe food safety practices.
"While the CDC study was unable to determine where contamination may have occurred – in the field, in a food handling operation, or in the home – United Fresh members continue to implement and improve on stringent food safety programs in their operations," said Dr. David Gombas, United Fresh senior vice president, food safety and technology. "No one wants their produce to be a source of harm to consumers, and all want consumers to enjoy the very real health benefits of consuming fresh fruits and vegetables with confidence."
United Fresh noted that significant improvements in food safety have been implemented by the produce industry over the last 10 years, and the supply chain adheres to strict programs designed to prevent foodborne illness.
"Our outbreak-based method attributed most foodborne illnesses to food commodities that constitute a major portion of the U.S. diet," study authors concluded. "When food commodities are consumed frequently, even those with a low risk for pathogen transmission per serving may result in a high number of illnesses. The risk for foodborne illness is just one part of the risk–benefit equation for foods; other factors, such as the health benefits of consuming a diet high in fruits and vegetables, must also be considered."
Overall, the CDC estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of food-borne diseases. CDC reminds consumers, however, that risk for foodborne illness at home can be lessened by washing surfaces often, avoiding cross-contamination, cooking to the appropriate temperature and refrigerating promptly.