The fight against food-borne illness takes place on many fronts.
The top 10 most ‘unwanted’ pathogen-food combinations have been identified by researchers at the University of Florida Emerging Pathogens Institute. This list of the riskiest combinations of foods and disease-causing microorganisms can act as a tool for those charged with protecting consumers from the creepiest and costliest of bugs.
A compilation of the number of illnesses, costs, and overall public health burden of certain microbes in certain types of food, the report is said to be the first comprehensive ranking of its kind computed in the U.S.
Food poisoning is unpleasant to say the least and millions of Americans get it each year. However, it can also be deadly: thousands die each year from food-borne illness.
Efforts to protect the public are often fragmented and uncoordinated, a problem the report's writers hope this research helps address.
“The number of hazards and scale of the food system make for a critical challenge for consumers and government alike,” says Michael Batz, lead author of the report and head of Food Safety Programs at the Emerging Pathogens Institute. “Government agencies must work together to effectively target their efforts. If we don't identify which pairs of foods and microbes present the greatest burden, we'll waste time and resources and put even more people at risk.”
So which bugs are the worst offenders? The new report finds five leading bugs — Campylobacter, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Toxoplasma gondii and norovirus — result in $12.7 billion in annual economic loss, with the Top 10 pathogen-food combinations responsible for more than $8 billion.
The food combinations that make us the sickest:
- - Poultry contaminated with Campylobacter tops the list, sickening more than 600,000 Americans per year. Salmonella in poultry also ranked in the top 10. These kind of poultry-borne infections can cause vomiting but also can lead to death.
- - Overall, Salmonella was the leading disease-causing bug, and not just in poultry. It can also be found in produce, eggs and multi-ingredient foods.
- - Listeria in deli meats and soft cheeses, and Toxoplasma in pork and beef are the combinations that most seriously affect pregnant women and developing fetuses, causing stillbirth or infants born with irreversible mental and physical disabilities.
- - Norovirus is most often caused by foodservice workers who handle food without proper handwashing procedure. The report recommends increased funding for training.
- - E. coli 0157:H7 is found mostly in contaminated beef and produce, and causes devastating injuries to small children.
For more information on good food safety practices and for a copy of the report, visit the Emerging Pathogens Institute website at www.epi.ufl.edu