Food safety seemed like a particularly grim topic last year. Reports of devastating illnesses -- and even deaths -- from food-borne pathogens seem to spread faster than salmonella bacteria in the hollandaise sauce at a hotel brunch buffet. But did food poisoning just seem to have gotten more prevalent because of increased media scrutiny? Or has the problem really gotten worse?
A new report from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) points to the latter. The report argues that outbreaks of food poisoning associated with the consumption of imported foods, in particular, have been on the rise. And the food that's making people sick is coming from places that weren't traditionally associated with food poisoning.
The report noted that imported foods were tied to 38 major outbreaks of food-borne illnesses between 2005 and 2010, sickening at least 2,348 people. And a disproportionally large share -- 17 out of the 38 -- took place at the tail end of the period, in 2009 and 2010.
The type of food that caused the most outbreaks was fish, followed by spices. The continent that was linked to the most outbreaks, with 45 percent of the total, was Asia.
The report noted that part of the reason for the growth in outbreaks related to imported food is an ongoing trend towards higher levels of food imports, especially from Asia. The American food safety system has its flaws, of course, but many other countries' systems are in even worse shape. (Even Canada is said to have more unsafe food than the USA.) The FDA has the power to inspect imported food -- and showed its willingness to do so in January, when it ramped up inspections of orange juice over a contamination scare. But because the FDA only tests a tiny fraction of all imported food, some pathogen-harboring food inevitably slips through the cracks.
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