Guam says most foodborne illness comes from homes

In May 2011, 370 students in five of Guam’s southern schools became ill after a breakfast of an egg salad sandwich, fruit and milk.

But Jian Yang, an associate professor of food science with University of Guam’s College of Natural Applied Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, says data from the Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services show that 63 percent of foodborne illnesses in Guam occur in the private home. Foodborne illness is estimated to occur for one out of four Guam residents at least once per year. Obviously, foodborne illness prevention at home is essential.

Anyone who has to write “obviously” is compensating for something.

Yang also writes that based on a survey of 200 individuals in 17 villages, the high frequency of foodborne illness on Guam may be attributable to storing food at unsafe temperatures, cooking food improperly, and consuming risky foods.

I’m not familiar with the data cited, but any time someone tries to point fingers, it’s easy to find holes in the data.

We’ve reviewed most of the publicly available data and seen estimates of the home as the source of foodborne illness vary from 11-84 per cent. And most of the data sucks. If a person eats peanut butter or spinach at home, they might get sick at home, but the contamination was beyond the control of the consumer.

Jacob, C.J. and Powell, D.A. 2009. Where does foodborne illness happen—in the home, at foodservice, or elsewhere—and does it matter? Foodborne Pathogens and Disease, 6(9): 1121-1123.

Foodservice professionals, politicians, and the media are often cited making claims as to which locations most often expose consumers to foodborne pathogens. Many times, it is implied that most foodborne illnesses originate from food consumed where dishes are prepared to order, such as restaurants or in private homes. The manner in which the question is posed and answered frequently reveals a speculative bias that either favors homemade or foodservice meals as the most common source of foodborne pathogens. Many answers have little or no scientific grounding, while others use data compiled by passive surveillance systems. Current surveillance systems focus on the place where food is consumed rather than the point where food is contaminated. Rather than focusing on the location of consumption—and blaming consumers and others—analysis of the steps leading to foodborne illness should center on the causes of contamination in a complex farm-to-fork food safety system.