Monday, July 23, 2018

Foodborne illnesses have nearly DOUBLED

Longer summers and more imported fruit and veg are driving up the amount of bacteria on our plates

Diagnoses of foodborne illnesses nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest report.
Just today, the agency announced that 88 people have been sickened by Salmonella from live chickens they keep in their back yards.
Danger lurks not only in backyards, but in grocery stores, and cafeterias.  

For several month this year, not a day went by without news that romaine lettuce had sickened another person. Five people were even killed by bacteria from the food. 
In these first seven months of 2018 alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have announced 13 multistate outbreaks of foodborne illnesses.
If it feels like your list of foods to eat with caution is getting longer and the warnings becoming more frequent, you're not wrong. 
Some of foodborne illnesses are, in fact, becoming more common in the US. 
The statistical increase is fueled by both good news and bad. Americans are eating more fresh produce and officials are getting better at tracking outbreaks, but a higher volume of food moving through a global economy raises contamination risks.
Annually, about one in six Americans gets food poisoning, and some 3,000 die from their symptoms.
There are 31 pathogens that contaminate our food and cause illness. The items they contaminate and the severity of illnesses linked to them may differ somewhat, but w know them all as food poisoning. 
The catch-all term typically means diarrhea, vommiting, abdominal pain fever and chills for people who have eaten bad food. 
In most cases, these illnesses subside as quickly and completely as they come come on. 
But some strains of the bugs behind these sicknesses are stronger and deadlier, such as the potent Shiga-toxin carrying type of E. coli that recently sickened hundreds of people and killed five this year.   
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has certainly got better at testing for the presence of any of those 31 food pathogens, but that does not mean we have necessarily gotten better at preventing or containing outbreaks. 
Compared to the rates from the period between 2014 and 2016, nearly twice as many (a 96 percent increase) cases of six foodborne infections were reported in 2017, according to a recent CDC report. 
The sharp increase in those illnesses - Listeria, Salmonella, Shigella, Vibrio and Yersinia - was due in part to the introduction of a relatively new battery of diagnostic tests and the CDC says that these cases 'would not have been diagnosed before' these tests. 
But the tests cannot do it all. 
'[These tests] also challenge our ability to find outbreaks and monitor disease trends, because they do not provide certain information needed to characterize organisms that cause infections,' the CDC's latest report admits. 
As the gap between diagnosis and prevention abilities grows, other factors may be fanning the proverbial flames of foodborne disease outbreaks. 
Summer is food poisoning's peak season every year because bacteria grow more prolifically in warm temperatures. Plus, summer barbecues mean more time cooking outside and less hand-washing and sanitary food handling. 
Bacteria grow fastest between 90 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit, and each year the US sees more summer days in that range, and shorter winters. 
In 1970, the last day of summer when the temperature reached 100 degrees in Austin, Texas, was August 9, but by 2016, it was August 26.
So hot climate may well be helping to extend the most fertile periods for bacteria growth. 
Between 2011 and 2016, Americans' consumption of fresh produce increased by 1.3 percent. It is 'moderate' but meaningful growth that will likely continue, according to Maryland research firm Packaged Facts. 
But the more fresh produce we eat, the greater the odds that one piece of fruit or head of lettuce might be carrying unwanted bacteria. 
And in a very global food economy, each piece of produce and filet of fish or meat we eat is passing through more hands, vehicles and warehouses than ever before. 
More than half of all fruit and 30 percent of vegetables in the US are now imported from other countries, as well as the majority of fish, according to the Department of Agriculture. 
This means longer distances, more stops and more contamination possibilities along the way from farms to Americans' fridges.  
Detecting an outbreak still takes a long time, and 15 percent of Americans will be struck by one this year, the CDC estimates. 
For now, the agency says that our best hope to keep from falling ill from our food is to wash it, and our hands, thoroughly, and make sure to throw out any food that has been sitting too long in bacteria's favorite warm, moist conditions.  

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