WASHINGTON, April 7, 2014 – The Center for Science in the Public Interest says that an analysis of thousands of food poisoning cases over a 10-year period shows that Americans are twice as likely to get sick from food prepared in restaurants than from food prepared in the home.

The nonprofit food safety watchdog looked at “solved” outbreaks of foodborne illnesses – where both a food and a pathogen were identified by investigators -- from 2002 through 2011. It found that 1,610 outbreaks in restaurants sickened more than 28,000 people, while 893 outbreaks linked to private homes caused nearly 13,000 cases of foodborne illness.

The data also back up those who want to keep restrictions on the sale of raw milk. Of 104 outbreaks of illness linked to milk, 70 percent were caused by raw milk, CSPI said.  In other words, although less than 1 percent of consumers drink raw milk, they bear 70 percent of the burden of illnesses caused by milk-borne outbreaks.

“Pasteurization of milk is one of the most important public health advances of the last 100 years, sparing countless people from infections and deaths caused by Salmonella, E.-coli, and Listeria,” Sarah Klein, CSPI’s senior attorney for food safety, said in a news release.  “Consumers should avoid raw milk, and lawmakers should not expand its availability.”

CSPI also said that reports of foodborne illnesses have fallen over the years, with states reporting 42 percent fewer outbreaks to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2011 than in 2002.

“Fewer reported outbreaks, though, doesn’t necessarily mean that fewer Americans are getting sick,” CSPI said in its release “The recent recession, influenza pandemics and post 9/11 bioterrorism investments have all diverted state public health budgets and attention away from identifying outbreaks and figuring out their causes,” the watchdog said.

Fresh produce, seafood, and packaged foods regulated by FDA were responsible for more than twice as many solved outbreaks as meat and poultry products, which are regulated by USDA, the CSPI said.

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, signed into law in January 2011, was designed to give the agency the authority it needs to conduct more frequent inspections of food processing facilities, particularly higher-risk ones. 

“But the agency has been slow to finalize a number of complex regulations — and Congress, in turn, has been unwilling to provide sufficient funds for the FDA to bring the reform law into full effect,” CSPI said.

CSPI’s Outbreak Alert! database includes 7,461 unique and solved outbreaks of foodborne illness that occurred from 1990 through 2011.  Today’s report examined the 3,933 outbreaks that occurred in the most recent 10-year period.  Those outbreaks sickened 98,399 people.  The CDC estimates that 48 million people are sickened annually, of which 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die. 

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