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Inconsistent Food Poisoning Reports Leave Country Vulnerable to Outbreaks

A new report cited in the Washington Post has found that unreliable reporting of foodborne illnesses leaves large sections of the country vulnerable to the spread of potentially deadly outbreaks. Just this year alone, listeria, salmonella and E. coli bacteria have caused at least a dozen multi-state food poisoning outbreaks around the country. Vast differences in interstate reporting practices put residents at risk and undermine national health trends.

Free Food Poisoning Suit Evaluation:If you or a loved one has been severely sickened by food poisoning, you should contact our law firm immediately. You may be entitled to compensation by filing a lawsuit and we can help.

What’s the problem?

A News21 analysis of national food poisoning reporting trends has found that salmonella bacteria is the most prolific foodborne pathogen, accounting for nearly 60% of the multi-state outbreaks reported to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). Each year, an estimated 1 million people are sickened by salmonella found in eggs, cantaloupe, turkey burgers, and other food products.

In multi-state food poisoning outbreaks, underperforming states prevent prompt responses to address the issues in a timely manner, while some smaller outbreaks are never even detected. Making these matters even more difficult to coordinate on a large scale, national food poisoning surveillance depends on the collaboration of nearly 3,000 state and local health departments who are subject to no fewer than 50 different reporting requirements.

Although the CDC heads multi-state food poisoning outbreak investigations, it can only provide guidelines and recommendations due to the fact that it is a non-regulatory agency. Without a unified federal protocol, each state determines its own set of disease-reporting requirements and practices.

Speed is of the essence when responding to food poisoning outbreaks, yet as many as 10 different states allow up to a week to report on cases of Listeria monocytogenes, the bacteria thought to be responsible for at least 15 deaths earlier this summer from Rocky Ford cantaloupes grown by Colorado-based Jensen Farms. Florida is currently the only state that requires immediate reporting of listeria cases, with most other states falling somewhere in between, with 16 requiring health departments to be notified within 24 hours.

The glaring disparity in reporting requirements among states holds true for most foodborne illnesses, provided that requirements exist at all. The CDC recommends reporting for at least 20 common types of illnesses, but fewer than half of the states require reporting for all of them.

Although all 50 states require reporting for salmonella bacteria, a dozen states including the District of Columbia do not require submission of an isolate – a specimen from a stool sample – to public health officials, which is the most efficient way an outbreak can be identified and traced to its source. For most common foodborne pathogens, specimen test results can be uploaded to a national database known as PulseNet, which matches the genetic ‘fingerprint’ on the samples with those of cases in other states.

In 2008, one of the most widespread food poisoning epidemics in our nation’s history examined surveillance measures in 43 states and exposed a gaping inability to identify and respond to outbreaks. In that case, salmonella-tainted jalapeno and serrano peppers left two Texas residents dead, 308 in hospitals, and at least 1,500 others ill enough to seek emergency medical treatment.

When it was all said and done, it was found that severe underreporting in Texas – which does not require samples to be submitted – hampered efforts to respond to and identify the source of the outbreak. The epidemic grew exponentially as Texas spent the first several weeks relying on information from insufficient reporting. By June 2nd, the state had the most cases of salmonella poisoning in the country.

It stands to reason that foodborne outbreaks are far more likely to go undetected in states like Texas which lack adequate surveillance and response measures. While most of them will be small, relatively isolated clusters of illnesses, some with the scope of the hot-pepper outbreak will also inevitably slip through the cracks. With the current mechanisms in place, it’s not a matter of if it’ll happen again, but when.

Do You Have a Food Poisoning Lawsuit?

The Food Poisoning Litigation Group at our law firm is an experienced team of trial lawyers that focus on the representation of plaintiffs in food poisoning lawsuits. We are handling individual litigation nationwide and currently accepting new foodborne illness cases in all 50 states.

Free Food Poisoning Suit Evaluation:If you or a loved one has been severely sickened by contaminated food products, you should contact our law firm immediately. You may be entitled to compensation by filing a lawsuit and we can help.

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