Food poisoning is responsible for sickening and even killing thousands of people each year, but most cases are not reported to the authorities.
In a recent issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that some of the major causes of food-related disease outbreaks in the year 2006 – the latest time span for which there are statistics – were salmonella and norovirus. These two diseases are regularly reported by the media. However, many people don’t bother to report these instances to the authorities. Ian Williams, head of the CDC’s OutbreakNet group, says that very few food-borne diseases are recognized by the people and hence, they do not report such instances on a regular basis.
Williams says that because most cases are not related to widespread outbreaks, random individuals rarely report them. As a result, the agency is never involved in finding out what caused these unreported sicknesses, so there is no way to be sure that the source is identified and corrected. Outbreaks allow the CDC to view the larger picture, when there are numerous people involved. But with individual cases, there needs to be more emphasis on identifying the source, analyzing the causes, and correcting problems to prevent future illnesses.
The CDC’s report says that diseases can be better controlled by pinpointing causes such as, improper handling of food and raw meats, and unsafe food storage practices. Better surveillance and thorough investigations can help to control food-borne diseases. If authorities can help to correct problems before they start, then there will be fewer cases of illness, reported or otherwise.
Noroviruses can cause serious gastroenteritis, which usually manifests itself as nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and pain in the abdomen. Food-borne sicknesses such as these, usually occur when food handlers who are already sick forget to wash their hands after they go to the washroom. Salmonella bacteria can cause similar symptoms, as well as bloody stools and fever. Salmonella outbreaks usually occur when foods contaminated with feces from animals are not cooked long enough. The types of food most commonly associated with food poisoning illnesses include poultry, leafy vegetables, nuts, and fruits.
The CDC’s report states that sometimes outbreaks are not recognized or investigated on time, because many US states do not have the resources or funding available to undertake any kind of research on these illnesses. However, if incidents are reported on time to perform research, scientists would be able to increase their understanding of the epidemiology of food poisoning illnesses, and hence, they will be able to identify the problems in the nation’s food safety systems. If public health systems are enhanced and increased at local, state, and federal levels, it would be easier and faster to detect and investigate food poisoning outbreaks, before more people become sick or die.