A new foodborne illness detection method may help the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, USDA and the Centers for Disease Control better pinpoint the origins of foodborne illness related to four major bacteria, the agencies said Tuesday.
The new method is detailed in a report produced by the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration, a partnership of the three agencies. It reviews outbreak data related to Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157, Listeria monocytogenes and Campylobacter.
The report briefly summarizes IFSAC's methods and results, including estimated attribution percentages for the four pathogens. CDC estimates that, together, these four pathogens cause 1.9 million cases of foodborne illness in the United States each year.
The new data, along with existing data, may shape agency priorities and support development of new regulations, the agencies said.
As outlined in the report, IFSAC analyzed data from nearly 1,000 outbreaks that occurred from 1998 to 2012 to assess which categories of foods were most responsible for making people sick with the four pathogens.
IFSAC experts divided food into 17 categories for the analysis. The pathogens were chosen because of the frequency or severity of the illnesses they cause, and because targeted interventions can have a significant impact in reducing them.
Among the findings of the report, researchers found more than 80% of E. coli O157 illnesses were attributed to beef and vegetable row crops, such as leafy vegetables and salmonella illnesses were broadly attributed across food commodities, with 77% of illnesses related to seeded vegetables (such as tomatoes), eggs, fruits, chicken, beef, sprouts and pork.
Nearly 75% of Campylobacter illnesses were attributed to dairy (66%) and chicken (8%), the report said. Most of the dairy outbreaks used in the analysis were related to raw milk or cheese produced from raw milk, such as unpasteurized queso fresco.
More than 80% of Listeria illnesses were attributed to fruit (50%) and dairy (31%). Data were sparse for Listeria, and the estimate for fruit reflects the impact of a single large outbreak linked to cantaloupes in 2011, the agencies said.
Due to limitations in outbreak data and uncertainty in the estimates, the agencies recommended caution in interpreting certain findings, such as the estimates for Campylobacter in dairy and Listeria in fruits.
IFSAC suggests that the results be used with other scientific data for risk-based decision making, a statement said.