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Imported Foods Are Making More Americans Sick

According to a study published in the March 2017 edition of “Emerging Infectious Diseases” — a journal by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — the researchers identified an increasing number of foodborne disease outbreaks related to imported foods.
Imported Foods Are Making More Americans SickThough not often discussed, foodborne illnesses are a worldwide problem, including here in the United States. The CDC, a federal agency under the Department of Health and Human Services, estimates that there are 48 million cases of foodborne illness every year, while 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 die. That means foodborne illnesses directly affect 1 in 6 Americans annually.

American-grown produce certainly is subject to contamination, particularly in large-scale operations that can’t always be sufficiently monitored. New recalls are issued weekly regarding contaminated foods at grocery stores, including packaged foods and produce. However, a new study published in Emerging Infectious Diseases titled “Outbreaks of Disease Associated with Food Imported Into the United States, 1996-2014” focuses specifically on foodborne illnesses from imported foods.

According to the study, about 19% of food consumed in the United States is imported, including 97% of seafood, 50% of fresh fruits, and 20% of fresh vegetables. Imported foods have increased steadily and significantly over the past 20 years, in part due to a demand from consumers for different kinds of foods that are not available in the U.S. and an increased demand for produce year-round.
Imported Foods Are Making More Americans SickThe study looked at foodborne illness outbreaks — with outbreaks defined as two or more related cases — associated with imported food from 1974 to 2014. Between 1996 and 2014, the researchers found a total of 195 outbreaks that resulted in 10,685 illnesses and even 19 deaths. From 1996-2000, imported food was associated with 1% of all foodborne illness outbreaks, compared to 5% during 2009-2014, representing a significant increase. Though imported foods still make up a relatively small portion of foodborne illnesses, the number is steadily increasing and will likely continue to increase as Americans consume more and more imported foods.

The researchers also noted that almost all the imported foods associated with outbreaks fall under the jurisdiction of the FDA, but that only a small portion of FDA-regulated foods are actually inspected upon being imported. They conclude that the enforcement of the Food Safety modernization Act of 2011 “will help to strengthen the safety of imported foods by granting FDA enhanced authorities to require that imported foods meet the same safety standards as foods produced domestically.”

For now, a good way to avoid foodborne illnesses from both imported or domestically-produced food, is to shop in season and locally whenever possible, and most ideally, to get to know a farmer and actually visit their farm to see for yourself the production operations of the food you eat.

What do you think? Are you concerned about foodborne illness outbreaks? Have you been affected by them before?
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