CDC, Federal Partners Develop Improved Method for Attributing Foodborne Illness

A new report by the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration (IFSAC)—a partnership between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)—details an improved method for analyzing foodborne illness outbreak data to determine which foods are at fault.

“Foodborne Illness Source Attribution Estimates for Salmonella, Escherichia coli 0157, Listeria Monocytogenes, and Campylobacter Using Outbreak Surveillance Data” focuses on foodborne illness source attribution, which is the process of estimating the most common food sources responsible for specific illnesses. As indicated by the report title, the new analysis method is for Salmonella, E.coli, Listeria, and Campylobacter, four major foodborne bacteria that CDC estimates cause 1.9 million cases of foodborne illness in the United States each year. 

IFSAC analyzed data from nearly 1,000 outbreaks from 1998 to 2012 to assess which categories of food were most responsible for making people sick with each of the four bacteria. Findings include:

  • More than 80% of E.coli illnesses were attributed to beef and vegetable row crops, such as leafy vegetables
  • Salmonella illnesses were broadly attributed across categories, with 77% of illnesses related to seeded vegetables such as tomatoes, and to eggs, fruits, chicken, beef, sprouts, and pork.
  • Nearly 75% of Campylobacter illnesses were attributed to dairy and chicken. Most dairy outbreaks were related to raw milk or cheese produced from raw milk.
  • More than 80% of Listeria illnesses were attributed to fruit and dairy.


About Katie Regan

Katie Regan serves as the Communications Specialist for Environmental Health, Pandemic Preparedness, and Catastrophic Response at NACCHO. Her work includes promoting local health departments' best practices through NACCHO's various storytelling and communications channels. Twitter: @katiejregan

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