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Outbreaks of Food-borne Diseases continued...

Food-borne outbreaks of norovirus occur most often when infected food handlers fail to wash their hands well after using the toilet, the CDC says in a news release. Food-borne outbreaks of salmonella commonly occur when foods that have been contaminated with animal feces are eaten raw or insufficiently cooked.

In 2006, the food commodities associated with the largest number of illnesses were poultry (21%), leafy vegetables (17%) and fruits or nuts (16%).

The food commodity categories defined by the CDC are fish, crustaceans, mollusks, dairy, eggs, beef, game, pork, poultry, grains/beans, oils/sugars, fruits/nuts, fungi, leafy vegetables, sprouts, vine/stalk vegetables, and root vegetables.

"Determining the proportion of outbreak-associated cases of foodborne illness due to the various food commodities is an important step," Patricia M. Griffin, MD, chief of the CDC's Enteric Diseases Branch, says in a news release. "Identification of particular food commodities that have caused outbreaks can help public health officials and the food industry to target control efforts from the farm to the table."

She cautions, however, that only a small proportion of food-borne illnesses occur as part of recognized outbreaks. Some outbreaks aren't detected, investigated, or reported because many states lack the resources.

The authors write that timely reporting of results of investigations is an important step in efforts to better understand and define the epidemiology of food-borne disease in the U.S. and to identify gaps in the food-safety system.

Many food-borne illness cases are neither recognized nor reported, the CDC says, and thus are not recognized by health officials.

"Outbreak investigations, especially multistate outbreaks, can rapidly strain public health system resources," the authors write. "Enhancing capacity at local, state, and federal levels could make outbreak detection and investigation even faster."

A recent salmonella outbreak that sickened hundreds of people in the U.S. and Canada was traced to peanuts in Georgia. The outbreak was blamed for some deaths, though the exact number is not known.

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