Monday, March 25, 2013

CSPI notes decline in foodborne-illness outbreaks

Here's some good news -- well, actually, mixed-but-mostly-good news -- to start your week:

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit that tracks nutrition and food-safety policy, is reporting that foodborne illnesses fell more more than 40 percent between 2001 and 2010. Despite what can seem like endless rounds of spinach outbreaks and salsa recalls, better food safety practices actually do appear to be working.

CSPI noted the decrease particularly in outbreaks related to E. coli and salmonella, with the sharpest declines in cases involved seafood, poultry and beef. (Adjusted for consumption, though, the center notes that seafood still presents the greatest risk, causing almost 20 times as much disease as fruit and dairy.)

 Outbreaks related to produce, which is involved in the highest number of illnesses -- we eat a lot of it, and we still forget to wash the stuff we're not going to cook -- have remained relatively flat. Illnesses related to dairy were at their highest point in 2010, the last year of the study period, possibly because of increases in consumption of raw and/or unpasteurized milk and cheese.

A few points I found particularly interesting:
 -- HAACP -- Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, the program that most of the food industry uses to set up plans for handling food -- may be responsible for the fall in outbreaks from the seafood, meat and poultry industries. HAACP was adopted in the late 1990s and was in place in the decade of the study. If these numbers hold steady, it could be evidence the program is working.
-- CSPI's study notes that the foods regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, which include produce seafood, dairy and most packaged foods, were responsible for more than twice as many outbreaks as the meat and poultry foods regulated by the USDA. The FDA recently got the go-ahead to make changes under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, so it will be interesting to see if we see more declines.
-- CSPI is worried that cutbacks and tight state and federal budgets will slow or halt progress, or will disrupt research into which practices and pathogens are the most dangerous.

For more on the report, go to the center's site,