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US import-related foodborne disease outbreaks on the rise - CDC

By Mark Astley , 19-Mar-2012

As the US food supply becomes more global, people are becoming more exposed to foodborne diseases, according to the CDC.
As the US food supply becomes more global, people are becoming more exposed to foodborne diseases, according to the CDC.

US-based foodborne disease outbreaks caused by tainted imported food appeared to rise in 2009 and 2010, according to research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The agency added that it is too early to say for certain whether the increase in import-associated outbreaks represents a trend.

Imported food products from 15 countries were implicated in 39 outbreaks and 2,348 illnesses in the five years between 2005 and 2010, according to CDC experts who reviewed the agency’s Food Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System – which collects information from state, local and public health agencies.

Of the 39 outbreaks, 17 occurred in 2009 and 2010 – representing nearly 50% of the total.

The review also added that nearly 45% of the imported implicated food products came from Asia – an area in which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is boosting its efforts.

Import safety trend?

“It’s too early to say if the recent numbers represent a trend, but CDC officials are analysing information form 2011 and will continue to monitor for these outbreaks in the future,” said CDC epidemiologist Hannah Gould PhD.

“As our food supply becomes more global, people are eating foods from all over the world, potentially exposing them to germs from all corners of the world, too.”

“We saw an increased number of outbreaks due to imported foods during recent years, and more types of foods from more countries causing outbreaks.”

The review is potentially worrying news for authorities in the US, where according to a report, food imports grew to $78bn in 2007 from $41bn in 1998.

The report, which was commissioned by the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS), estimated that around 16% of all food eaten in the US is imported.

“We need better – and more – information about what foods are causing outbreaks and where those foods are coming from,” added Gould.

FDA “stepping-up efforts”

The CDC review added that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stepped-up its efforts to learn lessons from outbreaks, and apply these measures to prevent future outbreaks.

“The newly enacted FDA Food Safety Modernisation Act is also a major step in establishing a prevention based food safety system that would address domestic as well as imported foods. CDC, FDA and USDA will continue to work together to prevent foodborne illness and stop harmful products from entering commerce,” said a CDC statement.

FoodQualityNews.com reported earlier this year on the FDA’s proposed 2013 budget, which included an additional $10m to strengthen the safety of China-produced food.

“Without this initiative, FDA will not have the resources to adequately identify and address risks associated with food imported from China. Not funding the initiative could result in preventable harm to patients in America,” said the Fiscal Year (FY) Food and Drug Administration Congressional Justification document.

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