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Survey of State Health Departments Underscores Gaps in Foodborne Illness Response
Date:10/30/2009

Produce Safety Project and Safe Tables Our Priority survey demonstrates need for better integration and collection of outbreak data

WASHINGTON, Oct. 30 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A survey of state health departments regarding their capacity to track produce-related foodborne illnesses found that the response and investigation of outbreaks varies greatly and can lead to delays in public-health response.

The survey was commissioned by the Produce Safety Project (PSP), an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts at Georgetown University, and conducted by Safe Tables Our Priority (S.T.O.P.). Thirty-nine of the 51 state and District of Columbia health departments responded to the survey, which asked about the types of questions and questionnaires administered to victims of foodborne illness, the time frame in which they were completed, and how states collected and stored the resulting data for calendar year 2007.

Despite the increase in the number of multi-state outbreaks of illnesses linked to fresh produce over the past several years, the data show that only 25 of the 39 states responding to the PSP/S.T.O.P. survey asked victims about specific produce items - even if the item was associated with a past outbreak.

"It is important to learn from our experience, and so it is surprising that many states are failing to ask about fruits and vegetables on their questionnaires given to foodborne illness victims," said Jim O'Hara, PSP director.

"The lack of food attribution data and especially attribution to produce is astounding considering the large burden of foodborne illness in the U.S.," said Donna Rosenbaum, the Executive Director of S.T.O.P. "And it all starts with finding out what the person ate. The public health system cannot find what it's not looking for or asking about. We certainly cannot fix the food safety system when we don't know exactly where and how the contaminated produce makes it int
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SOURCE Produce Safety Project
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