In the latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC has released the 2007 numbers on foodborne illness in the United States. Norovirus (39 percent) was the most common culprit, followed by Salmonella (27 percent). In terms of illnesses caused, poultry led the way, followed by beef and leafy greens. In the majority of the 1,097 reported outbreaks of foodborne illness, no agent was identified – a fact the CDC attributes to the small scale of many of those outbreaks. Here’s a breakdown of what investigators managed to find:
Those looking to dig a little bit deeper into the numbers should consult this four-page PDF, which breaks it all down by contaminant, food, number of outbreaks and number of illnesses caused.
Resources for covering food safety
ESPN’s Paula Lavigne examined 2009 health department inspections from the 107 stadiums that host MLB, NBA, NHL and NFL games in the United States and Canada. The resulting report may keep you from indulging in your favorite ballpark food.
At 30 of the venues (28 percent), more than half of the concession stands or restaurants had been cited for at least one “critical” or “major” health violation. Such violations pose a risk for foodborne illnesses that can make someone sick, or, in extreme cases, become fatal.
An interactive map lets you see the venues based on the number of violations there; rolling your mouse over the location tells you the percentage of vendors found in violation and gives some information about the kinds of violations that were found.
The same information, compiled by Lavigne and Producer Lindsay Rovegno, is also available in a text format broken down by state.
Many of the excerpts cite instances in which food was not being kept at appropriate temperatures and a few are related to pests, but there are a few more unusual examples:
- At the Jobing.com Arena, where the Phoenix Coyotes play, “inspectors spotted an employee scooping ice with his bare hands instead of using scoops.”
- At Dodger Stadium, there was mold growing inside an ice machine.
- At Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium and at the Pepsi Center in Denver, inspectors found flies in bottles of liquor.
- At Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions, inspectors found an employee’s half-eaten hamburger in a warming unit.
Another interesting note: Food inspectors aren’t always visiting unannounced nor are they always visiting when concessions are open. In Chicago, inspections are done when the stadiums are empty and no workers are preparing or serving food. At Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium, inspectors must “submit a list of employees’ names and make an appointment a few days in advance.”
Reporters who have a major sports venue in their community might want to see how it stacks up against others, what kinds of violations have been found and do some further reporting.
Resources for covering food safety
Bagged romaine lettuce, a time-saving option for many shoppers, is suspected in the latest E. coli outbreak that has caused illness in at least 23 people, reports Lyndsey Layton of The Washington Post.
Layton addresses the question of whether pre-cut and bagged produce is more dangerous than whole greens and why they “represent a disproportionate number of recalls.”
An FDA official says it is easier to trace bagged produce than it is whole produce, which might account for the difference. But the article also reveals that some practices involved in the processing of pre-cut and bagged produce could be more likely to contaminate lettuce:
Most processors of fresh-cut produce remove the outer leaves and core the heads of lettuce in the field, where cutting utensils can come into contact with soil and spread contamination from the dirt to the crop, [microbiologist Michael] Doyle said. In farming areas, especially in a region near cattle farms, it is not unusual to find E. coli in the soil.
(Hat tip to Susannah-Fox.
From Covering Health
• Little recent progress on foodborne illnesses
• Schneider: FDA lacks resources to keep food safe
• High cost of foodborne illness broken down by state
• Lifting the shroud: Using multiple-cause-of-death data
• FDA Reform: The Time Has Come (Nancy Donley presentation)
• Why Is It So Difficult to Prevent Foodborne Illnesses? (Michael Doyle)
• Fatal Food: A study of illness outbreaks
• A selection of stories about salmonella
• Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy
• Outbreak Alert! Database
• Make our Food Safe Coalition
The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report contains some early numbers on foodborne illness rates in 2009. The data, NPR health blogger Scott Hensley writes, aren’t promising, and it looks like most infection rates haven’t really improved since 2004. A transcript and audio of the April 15 media briefing is available.
The report comes with data for the 10 states monitored by the CDC’s Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network; they’re also broken down by age. To demonstrate just how variable the infection rate is, we’ve pulled numbers for two of the most common foodborne illnesses, salmonella and campylobacter.
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Writing for AOL News (and his blog, Cold Truth) Andrew Schneider writes that the hydrolyzed vegetable protein recall reminds us that, no matter what was said in the wake of last year’s peanut butter recall, the FDA still doesn’t have the ability to pay close attention to source foods that are destined to end up in hundreds of different products.
In this most recent case, it was a test by a supplier, not an FDA representative, that caught the contaminated additive.
The FDA conducted an investigation at the company’s Las Vegas facility after a food producer that bought the flavoring from Basic Food Flavors notified federal agents that it had found Salmonella Tennessee in the vegetable protein.
In answer to the criticism about its actions during the peanut episode, FDA officials said they have no way knowing to whom suppliers sell their food products, what those products are and where they’re sold. The FDA says it doesn’t have the personnel or the needed regulations to handle the millions of shipments made within the food industry every week.
But what was seen with the dangerous peanuts, and what we’re beginning to see with the flavoring agent, is that producers of end products — those items that actually reach store and warehouse shelves — are declaring their own voluntary recalls.
The Make Our Food Safe coalition’s latest study provides a state-by-state breakdown of the cost of foodborne illness, both in absolute and per-capita terms. The report estimates that foodborne illnesses cost about $152 billion each year in America, with the cost being spread fairly evenly across the country.
Hawaii ($553) and Mississippi ($543) suffer the highest cost per capita, while Nevada ($450) and Utah ($448) bear the lightest per-capita load.
The report is the work of former FDA economist Robert L. Scharff, now a professor at Ohio State (bio). You can read the entire 27-page report in PDF form, scan the one-page summary or play with the accompanying interactive map and draw your own conclusions. You can also listen to an MP3 of the related media telebriefing.