CDC Report: Food Imports Responsible for Half of Foodborne Illness Outbreaks

Joost J. Bakker IJmuiden/CC BY 2.0

Not only do imported foods do a number on your carbon footprint, but you're rolling the dice every time you choose foods that aren't from your neck of the woods. A new extensive CDC report is showing that half of our nation’s foodborne illnesses are from imported sources and that number is on the rise.

The CDC reported on the outbreaks using the Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System from 2005 to 2010, which showed 39 outbreaks and 2,348 illnesses. But here's the kicker--nearly half occurred in 2009 and 2010.

Seafood a Culprit

The most common imported food outbreaks were from seafood, which accounted for 17 outbreaks, followed by fresh spices and dried peppers, which accounted for six outbreaks. Forty-five percent of imported food outbreaks were sourced from Asia.

A USDA report found that imports have grown from $41 billion in 1994 to $78 billion in 2007. We import 85 percent of seafood and 60 percent of fresh produce, depending on the season.

The outbreak numbers are likely an underestimation considering that many illnesses go unreported. The staff of inspectors at the FDA is overwhelmed at the expense of food safety. In reality, there are only enough evaluators to check 1.53 percent of food imports.

New Efforts Aren't Enough

The Food Safety and Modernization Act has taken steps to amp up safety of imported foods. The FDA closed the border to imported papayas after a food safety alert was brought to their attention this past year. Border representatives denied entry to shipments of papayas from Mexico unless importers provided proof of the shipment's safety by a validated laboratory. The FDA acted after finding that 15.6 percent of tested samples were contaminated with Salmonella. The samples were supplied from nearly all producing areas in Mexico, leading experts to conclude that the contamination was widespread.

But no matter the steps the federal government takes, the sheer numbers are working against them. With so many foods being importing, individual citizens have to take a look at where they’re foods are coming from, whether at the grocery store or at restaurants. Why take the chance of a crippling or lethal foodborne illness when you can avoid it?

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Tags: Food Safety | Food Security

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