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.

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This article originally appeared on Reprinted with permission.


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