Whether caused by a keener focus on sanitation and food safety – or, as postulated by FSN, a diversion of public health professionals to the pandemic or ill people not seeking medical attention and testing in possible food-poisoning cases – 2020 has seen a definite reduction in outbreaks compared to recent years.
In fact, the nine E. coli, Listeria, or Salmonella outbreaks of the year are significantly less than the 50 confirmed outbreaks of the 2016 reporting period summarized in CDC’s recently released surveillance report. As a compilation of information from CDC’s investigations database, PulseNet, and the Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System (FDOSS), the report summarizes the investigations of multistate outbreaks and possible outbreaks of Salmonella, E. coli (STEC), and Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) of the 2016 reporting period
While the report noted that there were 230 possible multistate outbreaks detected and 174 investigated, only 50 were determined to be actual outbreaks, of which 39 were solved (18 with a confirmed food source, 10 with a suspected food source, 10 with a confirmed animal source, and one with a suspected animal source).
While it may seem moot to be focusing on 2016 outbreaks in 2020, the process can, as CDC notes, provide insights into investigative processes, improve future investigations, and help prevent illnesses. Additionally, the report contains data that provides for some interesting observations of lessons learned and of continuous learning. For example:
In addition to these,
Even though more than four years have elapsed since the outbreaks summarized in the CDC report, it remains crucial to conduct such studies and identify trends for gaining insights into food safety gaps and developing applicable prevention and control strategies.
So, while we appear to have had fewer outbreaks so far in 2020, the FDA is not reducing its efforts to track those outbreaks occurring and working to find a root cause. There has been a lot of focus at the farm level seeking root causes. Today, the FDA announced a new dashboard for outbreaks, which TAG will discuss in a future newsletter. This year, we have also seen two new commodities associated with outbreaks (onions and peaches), which continues to send all of us in the food industry a message to “expect the unexpected” and always be ready to deal with incidents, outbreaks, recalls and regulatory actions.