Pathogens in food caused 1,500 outbreaks from ’09-’10

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Beef, dairy products, fish, and poultry were the foods most commonly implicated in foodborne disease outbreaks in 2009 and 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Eggs were responsible for fewer outbreaks than in previous years but still caused the highest total number of outbreak-related illnesses. The CDC defines a foodborne disease outbreak as the occurrence of at least two illnesses from eating a common food.

In January, the CDC indicated about 1,500 foodborne disease outbreaks were identified in total during 2009 and 2010, and about 300 were attributed to a food that fit in a single category. For those 300 outbreaks, beef, dairy products, fish, and poultry were each responsible for 11 to 13 percent of the outbreaks. But while eggs were connected with fewer outbreaks, they were connected with 27 percent of the reported illnesses in those 300 outbreaks.

The data are available in the CDC’s Jan. 25 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report at

For the 1,500 identified outbreaks, a total of about 29,000 people reported illnesses, 1,200 were hospitalized, and 23 died. Norovirus was the most commonly identified single etiologic agent responsible for outbreaks and illnesses, followed by Salmonella and Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli O157.

Salmonella was responsible for nearly 600 of the 1,200 total foodborne illness–related hospitalizations during those two years, STEC for about 200, and norovirus for just over 100.

Bacteria also were connected with 22 of the 23 foodborne disease–related deaths, and the remaining death was attributed to norovirus infection. Listeria monocytogenes was connected with nine deaths, Salmonella with five, STEC O157 with four, Clostridium perfringens with three, and Shigella with one.

The most commonly paired pathogens and foods implicated in outbreaks were Campylobacter with unpasteurized dairy products, Salmonella with eggs, STEC O157 with beef, ciguatoxin with fish, and scombroid toxin with fish, the report states.

The number of norovirus-related outbreaks reported in 2009 and 2010 declined from the preceding five years, according to an editorial note in the report. A new electronic reporting system implemented in 2009 may have enabled public health officials to more appropriately classify outbreaks, the note states, and limited epidemiologic and laboratory resources in 2009 may have reduced attention to norovirus outbreaks. For example, the 2009 pandemic H1N1 influenza outbreak could have diverted resources.