The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports in tomorrow’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that foodborne illnesses are a major health burden in the United States . Most of these illnesses are preventable, and analysis of outbreaks helps identify control measures. Although most cases are sporadic, investigation of the portion that occur as part of recognized outbreaks can provide insights into the pathogens, food vehicles, and food-handling practices associated with foodborne infections.
In 2006, CDC reported 1,270 foodborne disease outbreaks (FBDOs) from all states and territories through the Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System (FBDSS), resulting in 27,634 cases of foodborne illness and 11 deaths. Among the 624 FBDOs with a confirmed etiology, norovirus was the most common cause, accounting for 54% of outbreaks and 11,879 cases, followed by Salmonella (18% of outbreaks and 3,252 cases). Among the 11 reported deaths, 10 were attributed to bacterial etiologies (six Escherichia coli O157:H7, two Listeria monocytogenes, one Salmonella serotype Enteritidis, and one Clostridium botulinum), and one was attributed to a chemical (mushroom toxin).
Among outbreaks caused by a single food vehicle, the most common food commodities to which outbreak-related cases were attributed were poultry (21%), leafy vegetables (17%), and fruits/nuts (16%). Public health professionals can use this information to 1) target control strategies for specific pathogens in particular foods along the farm-to-table continuum and 2) support good food-handling practices among restaurant workers and the public.