Romaine lettuce. Tahini. Raw meat. Pre-cut melon. These were just some of the foods that made the news in 2018 as part of a record high number of foodborne illness outbreaks.
While foodborne illness outbreaks typically peak in the summer, 2018 was perceived to be higher than in recent years. What caused this perception?
Technological Advances in Detecting Foodborne Illness Outbreaks
Experts believe that this perceived spike in outbreaks is related to technological advances and improvements in the field. According to scientists at the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, academic research facilities, and food industry organizations, this perception is a result of technological advances on how outbreaks are detected. A primary factor is whole genome sequencing (WGS) which allows public health officials to link patients from distant areas by using DNA fingerprints of specific strains of pathogens.
This technology has created many positive outcomes, as it enables the CDC’s national laboratory network, PulseNet, to group together ill people who most likely ate the same contaminated food with the identical bacteria that may be the cause of an outbreak. Detecting outbreaks rapidly makes it possible to recall and remove thousands of contaminated food products, totaling over a billion pounds. Also, many products and services are safer today because of investigations that PulseNet initiated.
Most Common Foodborne Illnesses in 2018
Are you familiar with which foodborne illnesses were most prevalent in 2018 so that you can keep those around you safe?
Here is some information about 3 of the most common foodborne illnesses from recent news so that you can understand what they are and how to help prevent their spread:
1.) Norovirus: According to the CDC, norovirus is the leading cause of illness and outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States. In fact, it’s one of the cases of many flu-like symptoms including nausea, vomiting, headaches, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fevers. It can be transmitted from the feces to the mouth, either from eating or drinking contaminated food or water or by passing from person to person. However, you can protect yourself and others from norovirus by following these prevention tips: practice proper hand hygiene, especially after using the restroom and always before eating, preparing, and handling food; washing raw food before eating; not preparing food for others when sick; and cleaning and disinfecting contaminated surfaces.
2.) Salmonella: According to the Mayo Clinic, salmonella is a common bacterial disease that affects the intestinal tract. Symptoms include high fevers, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Salmonella is most likely to occur when people eat food contaminated with the feces of animals or humans carrying the bacteria (for example, raw eggs, raw meat, expired milk, and contaminated water). It can be prevented by washing hands before meal prepping, after touching animals, and after using the bathroom; cooking raw meat to the recommended internal temperature; not using raw ingredients; and avoiding cooking raw meat in the microwave.
3.) Escherichia coli (E. coli): According to the CDC, E. coli is a gram-negative bacterium that is a normal inhabitant of the human gastrointestinal (GI) tract and that helps to maintain a healthy digestive system. However, certain strains produce toxins, which cause diarrhea and other non-GI issues. Because E. coli thrives in the guts of humans and other animals, feces from infected individuals is an important source of food and water contamination. A few critical measures used to prevent foodborne E. coli illness include thoroughly cooking meat, avoiding unpasteurized dairy products and juices, hand hygiene and washing prep surfaces and utensils during food preparation, and frequent hand hygiene after using the bathroom, changing diapers, or contact with animals.
Now that we understand the difference between each of these foodborne illnesses, it is important to remember to practice good hand hygiene and to follow proper food handling and cooking procedures to prevent illnesses in the future. Learn more from the USDA and CDC.
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Multistate Foodborne Outbreak Investigations. Retrieved January 14, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/outbreaks/multistate-outbreaks/outbreaks-list.html
 United States Department of Agriculture. Foodborne Illness Peaks in Summer – What can you do to prevent it? Retrieved January 14, 2019, from https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/foodborne-illness-and-disease/foodborne-illness-peaks-in-summer/
 Food Safety News. Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2018/12/fingerprints-dont-lie-experts-say-2018-outbreak-stats-reflect-value-of-wgs/
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About PulseNet: Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/pulsenet/about/faq.html#future
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Norovirus Transmission. Retrieved January 14, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/about/transmission.html
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing Norovirus Transmission. Retrieved January 14, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/preventing-infection.html
 Mayo Clinic. Salmonella infection. Retrieved January 14, 2019, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/salmonella/symptoms-causes/syc-20355329