CDC: Multistate food outbreaks less common, more serious

Multistate food outbreaks may be becoming less common, but they cause more illness, hospitalizations and deaths than other foodborne outbreaks.

A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looks at the prevalence of multistate food outbreaks and the impact of those outbreaks.

The report highlights that while only 3 percent of all foodborne outbreaks are multistate, those outbreaks account for 56 percent of deaths related to foodborne outbreaks. They also account for 34 percent of related hospitalizations and 11 percent of illness, according to the CDC.

Foods that cause multistate outbreaks are contaminated before they reach a restaurant or a person’s home – meaning even safe food-handling practices can’t prevent the illness.

Investigations into the outbreaks often reveal problems on the farm, in processing or in distribution that led to the contaminated food, according to the CDC. About 46 percent of multistate foodborne outbreaks result in product recalls, according to the report.

Each year, an average of 24 multistate outbreaks (each involving two to 37 states) are reported. Right now, Washington and Oregon health officials are in the midst of an E. coli outbreak linked to Chipotle restaurants in the region.

Nearly all multistate outbreaks (91 percent) are caused by the types of germs: Salmonella, E. coli and listeria, according to the CDC.

The bright side, according to the CDC report, is that outbreak investigations lead to safer food.

When the CDC launches a multistate outbreak investigation, food regulators work to trace suspect foods back to the source, health officials interview people about their illness and what they ate and, together, they work with the involved companies.

When companies issue recalls and fix the source of contamination, other food regulators and companies that produce similar products take notice. They improve practices, which then prevent future illnesses and outbreaks, according to the CDC report.

Marissa Harshman

Marissa Harshman

I'm the health reporter for The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. I started at The Columbian -- my hometown newspaper -- in September 2009. Reach me at or 360-735-4546.

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