Imported foods causing more foodborne illness

Imported foods have been making Americans sick at increasing rates, according to new data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2009 and 2010, foodborne disease outbreaks rose, with nearly half of the cases tied to foods from places that had not previously appeared to cause illnesses, the CDC told the International Conference on Emergency Infectious Diseases Wednesday.

Fish and spices are the most common culprits.

“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,” Hannah Gould, an epidemiologist in CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases and the lead author of the study, said in a statement.

The CDC looked at outbreaks from 2005 to 2010 and found 39 outbreaks and 2,348 illnesses linked to imported foods from 15 countries -- though the numbers may be underestimated because the origin of outbreaks isn’t always known or reported. But among those reported, nearly half of the outbreaks occurred in 2009 and 2010.
Fish was responsible for 17 outbreaks, and fresh and dried spices were responsible for six. About 45 percent of the foods came from Asia.

According to data from the Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, imports grew from $41 billion in 1998 to $78 billion in 2007, with fruits and vegetables, seafood and processed foods responsible for much of the increase.

A total of 16 percent of all food eaten in the United States is imports, including up to 85 percent of the seafood and up to 60 percent of the fresh produce.

Gould said to target prevention efforts more and better information was needed on the causes of outbreaks and where food comes from.

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