Food-borne disease outbreaks caused by imports seemed to rise in 2009 and 2010, with fish and spices the most common sources, the Centers for Disease Control said on Wednesday.
Almost half of the outbreaks, or localized epidemics, pointed to foods imported from areas that had not been linked to outbreaks before, the CDC said in a statement.
“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,” said CDC epidemiologist Hannah Gould, lead author of a report on the upturn.
From 2005 to 2010, 39 outbreaks and 2,348 illnesses were linked to imported food from 15 countries. Of those outbreaks, 17 occurred in 2009 and 2010.
Overall, fish was the most common source of imported food-borne disease outbreaks at 17, followed by spices with six outbreaks, including five from fresh or dried peppers.
Nearly 45 percent of the imported foods causing outbreaks came from Asia, the CDC said.
Foodborne Disease Outbreaks (FBDOs)
As defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a foodborne disease outbreak is a “cluster of two or more infections caused by the same agent (pathogen or toxin) which upon investigation are linked to the same food.” Foodborne outbreaks must be reported to the health department in Virginia as required by state regulation. Upon receiving notice of a suspected or confirmed foodborne disease outbreak, the Virginia Department of Health will start an investigation to confirm an outbreak has occurred. If it is determined that a foodborne outbreak has happened, the goals of the investigation are to identify the pathogen or “bad bug” (i.e. bacteria, virus, parasite) that caused illness in the outbreak, determine the source of illness and most importantly, control the spread of illness and prevent further spread of the disease.
Gould’s report was presented on Wednesday at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases in Atlanta.
CDC reported that half of the foods implicated in outbreaks were imported from “areas which previously had not been associated with outbreaks.” The research was presented at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases in Atlanta.
“It’s too early to say if the recent numbers represent a trend, but CDC officials are analyzing information from 2011 and will continue to monitor for these outbreaks in the future,” said Hannah Gould, Ph.D., an epidemiologist in CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases and the lead author of the study.
The report looked at outbreaks reported to CDC’s Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System from 2005 to 2010 and then parsed out which implicated foods were imported.
According to the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, food imports grew to $86 billion in 2010 from $41 billion in 1999.
Much of that growth has occurred in fruit and vegetables, seafood and processed food products.