Foodborne disease outbreaks in the United States caused by imported food appeared to rise in 2009 and 2010, according to a research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) presented Wednesday at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases in Atlanta.
"It's too early to say if the recent numbers represent a trend, but CDC officials are analyzing information from 2011 and will continue to monitor for these outbreaks in the future," said Hannah Gould, an epidemiologist in the CDC Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases and the lead author of the study.
CDC experts reviewed the outbreaks reported to the CDC's Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System from 2005 to 2010 for implicated foods that were imported into the United States. During that period, 39 outbreaks and 2,348 illnesses were linked to imported food from 15 countries.
Nearly half of the 39 outbreaks occurred in 2009 and 2010. Overall, fish was the most common source of implicated imported foodborne disease outbreaks, while nearly 45 percent of the imported foods causing outbreaks came from Asia.
"We saw an increased number of outbreaks due to imported foods during recent years, and more types of foods from more countries causing outbreaks," Gould said.
According to a report by the Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, U.S. food imports grew from 41 billion U.S. dollars in 1998 to 78 billion in 2007. Much of that growth has occurred in fruit and vegetables, seafood and processed food products.
The report also estimated that as much as 85 percent of the seafood eaten in the United States was imported, and depending on the time of the year, up to 60 percent of fresh produce was imported.
"We need better -- and more -- information about what foods are causing outbreaks and where those foods are coming from," Gould said.
"Knowing more about what is making people sick will help focus prevention efforts on those foods that pose a higher risk of causing illness," he added.