CDC: 5 insights on foodborne illnesses, outbreaks

Over the past weeks, there have been an alarming number of food recalls, food contaminations and foodborne disease outbreaks. The Chicago Tribune tapped CDC experts to answer raising consumer concerns about these trends. 

Here are five insights:

1. The number of foodborne illnesses has not increased. Rather, regulators' ability to detect foodborne illness has improved, experts told the Chicago Tribune.

"The interesting thing about these bacteria is that they mutate very quickly, which is great thing for disease detectives," Jory Lange, a Houston-based attorney who specializes in food safety cases, told the Chicago Tribune. "Because of that rapid mutation, there’s a genetic fingerprint that makes it easier to trace."

2. For every reported cases of a foodborne illness, there are around 20 unreported cases. "The reason that's so concerning (is that) without identifying the problem, we can’t fix it," Mr. Lange said. "If we can't fix the problem, then we may have someone get sick next month."

3. Food path tracing is an active area of research. Experts utilize techniques such as genome sequencing to analyzes a food's DNA footprint to help determine an outbreak's source.

"Food is something that can get contaminated at any step of the process," Mr. Lange told the Chicago Tribune. "One plant and one fruit … if you have a problem, that problem can spread."

4. Food outbreaks have the potential to be fatal. For example, the E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce this spring hospitalized 89 people and killed five.

5. Laws, such as The Food Safety Modernization Act, exist requiring companies to report where they received a tainted product and what customers they sold it to. Yet some experts feel this law is not comprehensive enough.

"We have not implemented a system that allows us to trace back to the farm level," Jaydee Hanson, senior policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, told the Chicago Tribune.

More articles on clinical leadership and infectin control: 

100+ cases of foodborne illness attributed to McDonald's salad
Kellogg recalls cereal due to 31-state Salmonella outbreak
Most grocery store meat contains antibiotic-resistant bacteria: 4 things to know

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