The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has released a report entitled Outbreak Alert! 2008 that has some fascinating, and disquieting, information regarding current trends in foodborne outbreak incidents.

After compiling data for outbreaks of illnesses linked to specific foods occurring between 1990 and 2006, the results are:

• Seafood: 1,140 outbreaks involving 11,809 cases of illness
• Produce: 768 outbreaks involving 35,060 cases of illness
• Poultry: 620 outbreaks involving 18,906 cases of illness
• Beef: 518 outbreaks involving 14,191 cases of illness
• Eggs: 351 outbreaks involving 11,143 cases of illness

The authors also have made some excellent recommendations for CDC and Congress based on their findings, including:

1.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) should continue to improve outbreak reporting and surveillance. The CDC has improved its reporting and surveillance system, but gaps still remain. For example, nearly half of all states do not follow national standards for tracking disease outbreaks. Those gaps are particularly troubling given the numerous recent large outbreaks. Improvements in state oversight and coordination and increased funding at state level would allow CDC to act more quickly and could reduce the sizes of foodborne illness outbreaks.

2.  Congress should pass legislation to modernize food safety laws and increase funding, starting with FDA’s food safety program. While creating a unified, independent foodsafety agency would be the best solution in the long run, the crisis in confidence in FDA’s ability to manage food safety problems creates an urgency for making improvements at that agency. Outbreaks occur, in part, because of inadequate regulatory authority, inadequate monitoring, and inadequate funding. Congress should separate food safety from drug approvals, by creating a new Food Safety Administration at the Department of Health and Human Services. A new Administrator would oversee the modernization of the food safety program, with an enhanced mission in the areas of
prevention, inspection and enforcement and would help restore consumer confidence.

For the full report, click here