Food Engineering

Seafood leading cause of foodborne illness outbreaks, study says

March 22, 2003


Contaminated seafood is the leading known cause of foodborne illness outbreaks, according to a new report published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The next biggest causes are eggs, fruits and vegetables, beef and poultry. Those findings are in CSP Outbreak Alert! report, which was released at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association.

"Seafood and other foods regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) caused four times more outbreaks than meat and poultry products, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, CSPI's director of food safety. "Despite that, the FDA has only one-tenth as many food-safety inspectors, and about one-third of the inspection budget of the USDA. That represents a huge gap in consumers' protection against unsafe food."

FDA currently has only 150 inspectors to check on 3.7 million shipments of imported food and inspects domestic food plants only once every five years. FDA recently informed Congress that it needs significant new resources to protect the food supply, including $800 million to enhance domestic inspections and $540 million to inspect 20 percent of the shipments of imported food.

The Outbreak Alert! report was compiled from numerous sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state and local health departments, and medical and scientific journals. Outbreaks of unknown origin were not included in the report.