2018 Takes the Prize for Foodborne Illness Outbreaks

Maybe there’s something wrong with our food production system.

Foodborne illnesses are on the rise in the United States. A dismal annual report just released by the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) reveals that over 25,000 Americans got sick and 120 died last year from food-related infections, making 2018 the worst year for multi-state outbreaks in more than a decade.

“The CDC logged 23 multistate investigations last year,” explains the Washington Post, “the most in at least a dozen years, tracking major E. coli outbreaks linked to romaine, a salmonella outbreak in eggs, raw beef products, frozen chicken and canned pork, as well as outbreaks related to individual food products such as Kellogg’s Honey Smacks, I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter, Lebanon bologna and Hy-Vee Spring Pasta Salad.”

Nearly half of all illnesses come from vegetables, followed by meat and poultry, dairy and eggs, fish and shellfish. Campylobacter was the cause of 9,723 cases, and salmonella, which has not reduced in incidence in the past ten years despite regulatory efforts, was linked to 9,084 cases. E.coli infections numbered 2,925. These outbreaks are costly to the health case system, totalling $3 billion annually.

A spokesman at the Natural Resources Defense Council, Erik Olson, said tools for detecting pathogens have improved greatly in recent years, which could be a factor in the rising numbers, but inadequate food-safety legislation continues to be a major obstacle.

“[This] may contribute to ongoing foodborne illness problems such as the deadly E. coli outbreak in romaine from Yuma, Ariz., that sickened 210 people and killed five,” Olson told the Washington Post. “The largest outbreak in 10 years, reported in 36 states, was linked to tainted water in an irrigation canal from a nearby cattle ranch.”

It has been suggested that improving vaccinations for animals could reduce outbreaks, with the United Kingdom being used as an example in the report: “In the United Kingdom, vaccination of both broiler and layer chickens against Enteritidis, along with improved hygiene, was followed by a marked decrease in human Enteritidis infections.”

The mention of ‘improved hygiene’ merits further discussion, as the UK is known for having higher agricultural standards than the US; that’s why it vehemently protested the import of American ‘chlorinated chicken’. George Monbiot pointed out that bacterial infections are four to five times higher in the U.S. than in Europe, and there’s good reason for that.

“Washing chicken carcasses with chlorine allows farmers and processors to save the money they might have spent on systemic sanitation throughout the chicken’s life and death,” Monbiot wrote. “You need only dunk the meat in a chlorine bath to kill any accumulated germs.”

Perhaps American regulators should look to the conditions in which countries with safer food production systems are raising and slaughtering animals and take a lesson from those. More localized production could help, for example. When it comes to vegetables, the closer you can get to the source of your food, the better.

Part of the problem with the Great Romaine E.Coli Outbreak of 2018 was its circuitous journey from farm to table, with the lettuce harvested, packed, shipped, stored, washed, chopped, mixed with other lettuce, and repackaged. Forbes wrote, “These are the many touch points that could be the culprit of the contamination.”

The CDC report is a scary one and a sure sign that the current food production is failing us. It desperately needs an overhaul before more people fall sick and die.

by Katherine Martinko

Related at Care2

Image via Getty

33 comments

Leanne K
Leanne K15 days ago

As a long term vegetarian and now vegan, I know I am at less risk overall of food poisoning but it always surprises me when the culprit is something like lettuce. But the contamination of the lettuce can be traced to meat production. Yep all those poor animals poop, it goes into a water source. Farmers don't care, their poor animals are proof of that

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Paulo Reeson
Paulo R16 days ago

ty

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Vincent T
William T16 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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Lisa M
Lisa M16 days ago

Thanks.

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Lisa M
Lisa M16 days ago

Thanks.

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Danuta W
Danuta Watola17 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Angeles M
Angeles Madrazo17 days ago

Oooooops!!

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lori Gearhart
lori Gearhart17 days ago

thank you

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Lesa D
Lesa D17 days ago

thank you Katherine...

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Christine D
Christine D17 days ago

A produce farm near an animal farm should raise alarm bells for everyone.

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