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Risk of Food Poisoning Twice as High in Restaurants, Safety Alert Says

First Posted: Apr 09, 2014 07:28 PM EDT
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People who eat at restaurants are twice as likely to contract food poisoning as are those who prepare their food at home, according to the nonprofit food safety watchdog Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The center reports it analyzed outbreaks of foodborne illness over a 10-year period where both a food and a pathogen, or infectious agent, were identified by investigators and found 1,610 outbreaks in restaurants sickened more than 28,000 people, compared to 893 outbreaks connected to 13,000 cases of foodborne illnesses in private homes.

The center also says it documented a trend of decreased foodborne illness reporting in which states sent notice of 42 percent fewer outbreaks to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2011 than they did in 2002.

But, far from indicating a nationwide move toward healthier food preparation practices, the center asserts, the declining rate of reported outbreaks suggests crises such as "the recent recession, influenza pandemics, and post-9/11 bioterrorism investments have all diverted state public health budgets and attention away from identifying outbreaks and figuring out their causes."

Says the center's food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal: "Under-reporting of outbreaks has reached epidemic proportions ... yet, the details gleaned from outbreak investigations provide essential information so public health officials can shape food safety policy and make science-based recommendations to consumers. Despite the improvements in food safety policy in the past decade, far too many Americans still are getting sick, being hospitalized, or even dying due to contaminated food."

Meanwhile, the center has also discovered 104 of the outbreaks studied were linked to milk, 70 percent of which were caused by raw milk.

"Pasteurization of milk is one of the most important public health advances of the last 100 years, sparing countless people from infections and deaths caused by Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria," Sarah Klein, a CSPI senior food safety attorney, said in a news release. "Consumers should avoid raw milk and lawmakers should not expand its availability."

The CSPI's "Outbreak Alert!" database includes 7,461 unique and solved outbreaks of foodborne illness that occurred from 1990 through 2011. The report examined the 3,933 outbreaks that occurred in the most recent 10-year period and sickened an estimated 98,399 people.

The CDCP estimates that every year, food poisoning is suffered by 48 million people, of which 128 thousand are hospitalized and 3,000 die.

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