Chow line: More foodborne illness outbreaks detected last year

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It seems like there have been more foodborne illnesses in recent years. Is that true?

Sort of. More outbreaks have been detected in recent years, although the overall number of foodborne illnesses is thought to have remained largely the same. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there was an uptick in the number of detected foodborne illness outbreaks last year.

In fact, in a new report released last week, the CDC said that 120 Americans died as a result of foodborne illnesses last year and 25,606 Americans reported foodborne illnesses. Of those, 5,893 people required hospitalizations.

The CDC said it investigated 23 multistate foodborne illness outbreaks last year, several of which included reported cases of foodborne illnesses in Ohio. Some of the larger multistate outbreaks included E. coli outbreaks linked to romaine lettuce, ground beef, raw flour, and alfalfa sprouts; and salmonella outbreaks linked to raw turkey products, Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal, precut melons, and kratom.

The report also found that there was an increase in the detected number of infections caused by eight specific pathogens: campylobacter, cyclospora, listeria, salmonella, Shiga toxin–producing E. coli, shigella, vibrio, and yersinia.

However, it’s important to note that although detection of foodborne illnesses has increased, the overall incidence of cases has not, according to the CDC. 

In other words, although more outbreaks have been reported, the food supply is not necessarily less safe. Rather, we are just getting better at detecting problems when they do occur, said Abigail Snyder, an assistant professor and a food safety field specialist with The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

Additionally, foodborne diseases are preventable through the application of various proactive food safety programs, she said.

To help restaurants and the food service industry lessen their odds of causing an outbreak foodborne illness, food safety experts with CFAES offer food safety training to Ohio food service employees. 

The ServSafe training is offered by Ohio State University Extension, CFAES’ outreach arm. It focuses on key areas to reduce the transmission of foodborne illnesses: employee health and hygiene; clean, sanitized equipment and utensils; process management; and ingredient sourcing, preparation, and storage, among others, Snyder said.

Last year, OSU Extension offered more than 125 food safety trainings for the restaurant industry and trained more than 1,700 food service employees, including restaurant managers, school food service personnel, nursing home staff, and other food service personnel.

The classes are taught by OSU Extension family and consumer sciences educators, who are certified instructors through the National Restaurant Association. The classes are offered at several sites statewide and are open to small, medium, and large food service establishments, she said.

“By having strong food safety programs in place, companies reduce the possibility of increased costs due to having to discard product to control food safety, facing potential closures and regulatory action, and of course, the variety of costs that can arise if an outbreak of foodborne illness is linked to their product,” Snyder said.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC). Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Abigail Snyder, an assistant professor and a food safety field specialist with CFAES.

For more information contact: 
Tracy Turner
614-688-1067
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Abigail Snyder
OSU Extension