Poultry Is No. 1 Source of Outbreaks, Report Says
(New York Times)
By GARDINER HARRIS
Feeling sick? If so, the cause might have been bad chicken.
Poultry was the most commonly identified source of food poisoning in the United States in 2006, followed by leafy vegetables and fruits and nuts, according to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The report is the first effort by federal researchers to identify how most people in the United States become sickened by contaminated foods. Its findings, while not surprising, were welcomed by food-safety advocates.
“It’s a nice first step,” said Donna Rosenbaum, executive director of the nonprofit Safe Tables Our Priority. “The problem is that it’s based on a very small data set.”
After a concerted campaign by the federal Department of Agriculture to improve the safety of chickens, the number of people sickened by contaminated poultry in 2006 declined compared with an average of the previous five years, according to C.D.C. researchers.
But problems persist. Most of the poultry-related illnesses, the centers found, were associated with Clostridium perfringens, a bacterium that commonly causes abdominal cramping and diarrhea usually within 10 to 12 hours after ingestion. The spores from this bacterium often survive cooking, so keeping poultry meat at temperatures low enough to prevent contamination during processing and storage is critical.
Researchers counted leafy vegetables, fungi, root vegetables, sprouts and vegetables from vines or stalks as separate categories. Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group, noted that if all of the produce categories were combined, outbreaks associated with vegetables would have far exceeded those in poultry.
“We’re very glad that C.D.C. is finally coming out with good food attribution data,” Ms. DeWaal said. “It clearly shows the need for improvements, not only at F.D.A. but at U.S.D.A.’s food safety programs as well.”
A bill that would substantially reform the food safety program at the Food and Drug Administration edged a step closer to a vote on Wednesday during a markup session at the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health. A companion measure is being considered in the Senate. Margaret A. Hamburg, the F.D.A. commissioner, said last week that she supported the legislation, although she had asked for some changes.
While poultry is the most common source of illnesses among the 17 different foods tracked by federal officials, the C.D.C. found that two-thirds of all food-related illnesses traced to a lone ingredient were caused by viruses, which are often added to food by restaurant workers who fail to wash their hands. Such viruses often cause what many people refer to as a “stomach flu,” one to two days of nausea and vomiting that is unrelated to the flu virus.
Salmonella, the bacteria found in nationwide outbreaks of contaminated peanut butter, spinach and tomatoes, was the second-leading cause of sole-source food illnesses, the centers found.
While dairy products accounted for just 3 percent of traceable food-related outbreaks, 71 percent of these cases were traced to unpasteurized milk, the researchers found.
The findings resulted from an analysis of reports of food-related illnesses submitted to the C.D.C. by state and local health departments. Although the system is the best available, it is far from perfect. Most of the estimated 76 million cases of food-related illnesses a year go unreported in the United States. And of those that are reported, most are not thoroughly investigated. 6-12-09
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