Impact of foodborne illnesses

Saturday, November 7, 2015

It seems that our food supply is constantly under attack by pathogens. The Chipotle Restaurant chain has recently closed 43 restaurants in Washington and Oregon. So far at least 37 cases of the illness have been reported. The outbreak has sent 12 people to the hospital.

Dr. Scott Lindquist, Washington's state epidemiologist, said the specific microorganism responsible for the current outbreak is Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O26. Now that the organism has been identified, investigators will examine produce from the list of vendors to see if they can pinpoint where the contamination is coming from.

The outbreak is not the first that Chipotle has had to contend with in recent months. Last July, five people became sick with another strain of E. coli after eating at a Seattle area Chipotle. Then in August, 64 cases of salmonella illness were linked to tainted tomatoes served up at two Chipotle locations in Minnesota. That same month, 80 customers and 18 employees of a Chipotle in southern California became ill, and some tested positive for norovirus.

Sometimes it seems that articles almost write themselves. Earlier this week, I was looking at Amber Waves, the electronic agricultural magazine published by the UDSA Economic Research Service. The article that got my attention was ".Quantifying the Impacts of Foodborne Illnesses" written by Sandra Hoffman. This can be found

Although I think that the U.S. food supply is among the safest in the world. There have been problems and there will continue to be problems. What is happening at Chipotle can and does happen at other chains.

On Thursday morning, there was an article in the Washington Post entitled, "Big and deadly: Major foodborne outbreaks spike sharply." This was written by their health writer, Lena Sun, The Center for Disease control now had greater diagnostic tools to determining the pathogen involved and where it came from.

The gene sequencing played a key role this spring in a major incident traced to Blue Bell Creameries, the nation's third-largest ice cream maker. The company issued the first recall in its 108-year history after ice cream tainted with Listeria monocytogenes, the bacteria that cause the infection listeriosis, was linked to three deaths at a Kansas hospital and illnesses in Kansas and Texas. CDC was able to determine that cases dating as far back as five years ago were related to the outbreak.

The hepatitis A virus is transmitted through ingestion of contaminated food and water or through direct contact with an infectious person. In June of 2013, USA Today had a headline."118 sickened in hepatitis A outbreak linked to berries." The gist of the story is that the Hepatitis A strain was rare and not found in the United States. The mixed berries were sold at Costco. The producer of the berry mix, Townsend Farms of Fairview, Ore., voluntarily began a recall on June 3. The Food and Drug Administration has begun an inspection of the company's processing facilities. The strain of hepatitis A found in the berry mix is rare in the United States but known to circulate in North Africa and the Middle East. According to the label, the Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend mix contained fruit from the United States, Argentina, Chile and Turkey.

Strawberries imported from Mexico and processed in California caused 153 cases of hepatitis A infection among schoolchildren and teachers in Michigan. It was traced back to a single location. Federal health officials said here today.

The Economic Research Service has analyzed the economic burden of the 15 pathogens responsible for 95 percent of the 9.4 million episodes of foodborne illness for which a pathogen cause can be identified. ERS estimates that these 15 pathogens impose $15.5 billion in economic burden annually. Just five pathogens--Salmonella (all non-typhoidal species), Toxoplasma gondii, Listeria monocytogenes, Norovirus, and Campylobacter--account for 90 percent of this economic burden.

The norovirus accounts of 61 percent of all the cases of foodborne disease in the United States. However, it causes the least economic impact. Salmonella causes the most economic impact. Back in 2008 and 2009, outbreaks from Salmonella were deadly. The Peanut Corporation of America was responsible for an outbreak which sickened 714 and there were nine deaths. The executives of this company have been sentenced under felony laws and face long prison sentences. Of the 1 million cases of Salmonella poisoning each year, only 2 percent require hospitalization.

In September, the Food and Drug Administration finalized long-awaited rules that will require U.S. food manufacturers to make detailed plans to identify and prevent possible contamination risks in their production facilities. FDA said it expects to soon finalize additional rules regarding the growing and packaging of produce, as well as requirements that imported foods meet U.S. safety standards. Most of the rules haven't been put into place yet.

The University of Missouri Extension office is open Monday-Friday located in Kennett, Missouri at 233 North Main Street. Contact 573-888-4722 with questions or comments. MU is an equal opportunity/ADA institution. University of Missouri Extension does not discriminate on the basis of their race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability in employment or in any program or activity.

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