By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Food-borne illnesses caused by fish, spices, produce and other edibles imported from other countries seems to be on the rise – but the countries of origin may be varied, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC defines a food borne disease outbreak as two or more similar illnesses resulting from the same type of food.
The report says that of the 39 outbreaks caused by foreign food (which caused 2,348 illnesses) from 2005 to 2010, 17 of them happened in 2009 and 2010, according to the report. Bad fish caused 17 outbreaks; spices were responsible for six. Nearly 45% of the cases came from food that had originated in Asia. The report found that nearly half of the outbreaks came from areas that hadn’t previously been associated with such diseases like Latin America that ranks number two.
The number of food poisoning outbreaks linked to imported food per year has more than doubled, to 6.5 in 2005-2010, up from 2.7 per year in 1998-2004, according to CDC data presented at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases in Atlanta, Georgia.
The true extent of the outbreaks is probably much more expansive than reported, according to the CDC. Food imports into the U.S. nearly doubled to $78 billion in 2007 from $41 billion in 1998, according to the Department of Agriculture. The study notes that 16 percent of the foods eaten in the United States are imported and as much as 85% of seafood consumed in the country comes from abroad. The nation's food imports are growing at a rate of 10 percent a year, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“As our food supply becomes more global, people are eating foods from all over the world, potentially exposing them to germs from all corners of the world, too,” said epidemiologist and lead author Hannah Gould in a statement. “We saw an increased number of outbreaks due to imported foods during recent years, and more types of foods from more countries causing outbreaks.”