A new CDC Vital Signs Report on Food Safety points once again to a stubborn problem: that food can sometimes bite back and be deadly. We would be wise to heed its reminder—that more progress is needed to protect people and drive down foodborne illnesses in the United States and globally. Acting globally means sharing solutions and resources throughout the world to make food safer.
I started in CDC’s “foodborne” group as an EIS officer in 1983. It’s sort of a liberal arts education in pubic health since foodborne diseases can be caused by so many different organisms. Even in the US where our food supply is one of the safest in the world, foodborne illness affects everyone, with 48 million illnesses estimated just in the US—that’s roughly 1 in 6 people.
My experience over the years shows well how understanding the mechanisms by which foods become contaminated in the first place is critical to devising effective control measures. Careful initial interviews with a group of patients are critical to suggest a testable hypothesis, which may point to new food vehicles.