Salmonella Blues: How Worried Should You Be About Foodborne Disease Outbreaks?

The Chipotle outbreak is the latest: After customers were sickened in Oregon and Washington, the chain is keeping more than 40 restaurants closed while the source of an E. coli outbreak is investigated. While 22 people have been affected, no one has died — and that makes the multistate food-borne outbreak something of an anomaly, according to a report published Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

RELATED: Chipotle Closes Over 40 Stores Amid E. Coli Outbreak

According to researchers, multistate outbreaks were responsible for more than half of the deaths caused by outbreaks of food-borne illness in 2010 and 2014, despite multistate events accounting for just 3 percent of outbreaks. Three bacteria — salmonella, listeria, and E. coli — caused 91 percent of multistate outbreaks.

“Americans shouldn’t have to worry about getting sick from the food they eat,” CDC director Tom Frieden said at a press conference announcing the report. “We have done a lot to improve food safety, but we need to do more.”

In addition to causing 53 percent of deaths, the 120 multistate outbreaks that occurred in the four years studied were responsible for 11 percent of illnesses caused by outbreaks and 34 percent of hospitalizations, and nearly half resulted in product recalls. The most deadly was the 2011 listeria outbreak caused by contaminated cantaloupe, which killed 30 people.

RELATED: People Are Dying from Contaminated Food, but Obama and Congress Don't Seem to Care

The CDC report claims the reason more massive outbreaks of food-borne illness are making the news is the same reason American food should soon be safer: Improved technology allows for more accurate detection and prevention.

“Top-notch epidemiology and new gene sequencing tools are helping us quickly track down the source of food-borne outbreaks,” Frieden said in a statement, “and together with our national partners we are working with the food industry to prevent them from happening in the first place.”

But as Maryn McKenna noted in a story on the National Geographic website, “the average American burger contains the products of 82 supply chains — and importing those components opens a portal not just for naturally occurring diseases but for deliberate contamination as well.”

Either way, the days of bacteria leading the chase when food becomes contaminated may soon come to an end — that is, if the federal government’s new food-safety regulations work as planned. The “preventive control rules” that will go into effect in September 2016 will require food manufacturers to prevent outbreaks rather than try to contain them after the fact.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"604926","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"1525","style":"width: 150px; height: 35px;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"6523"}}]]

This article originally appeared on Reprinted with permission.


How Subway Sandwiches Are Fueling a Major Public Health Crisis

The Dark Side of McDonald's World-Famous Fries

How Starbucks Can Help Prevent Thousands of Deaths and Millions of Sick People

Popular Soy Sauce Brand Tortures and Kills Animals

Is Cheese the New Crack? Study Finds Pizza as Addictive as Some Drugs

Listeria Outbreak: Inside a Major Ice Cream Company's Recall

Keep up to date with important environment news and opinion; sign up to receive AlterNet's weekly environment newsletter.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.