Raw meat

A new report released by the Government Accountability Office finds that measures to reduce outbreaks of serious foodborne illnesses in the U.S. are not meeting the nation’s safety goals, and the systems employed to catch and prevent outbreaks are in need of significant strengthening.

The report found that cases of illness related to salmonella, listeria and campylobacter outbreaks increased in 2010–2011 compared with figures from 2006–2008. Nearly 50 million Americans—almost 15 percent of the population—will become sick as a result of contaminated food this year. And more than 100,000 people are expected to be hospitalized and 3,000 people will likely die as a result of food poisoning this year.

Goals set by the Centers for Disease Control for salmonella (which actually decreased slightly last year), still fell short of the targeted reduction of 6.8 illnesses per 100,000 people. The agency reported that for 2011 there were 16.5 cases of salmonella contamination reported per 100,000 people—which is more than double the target. Cases of E. coli 0157 increased to 0.98 per 100,000 up from 0.95 in 2010.

According to the GAO’s report, the FDA is failing to address its challenges in handling outbreaks, in particular, communication on the issues. Already in 2012, nineteen food recalls have been posted on the USDA’s website for contamination risks—ten of them occurring within the last month. Cargill just recalled 29,000 pounds of ground beef and Trader Joe’s has recalled deli products containing onions that may be infected with a deadly strain of listeria.

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Image: StuartWebster