Foodborne disease from imported foods on the rise

The number of foodborne disease outbreaks related to imported food appeared to rise in 2009 and 2010.

Nearly half of foodborne outbreaks were related to foods imported from areas that previously had not been associated with outbreaks, according to a study presented at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases.

"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," Hannah Gould, PhD,an epidemiologist in the CDC's Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases, said in a press release.

Gould and colleagues reviewed the CDC's Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System to identify outbreaks from 2005 to 2010 that implicated foods that were imported to the United States. There were 39 outbreaks and 2,348 illnesses related to imported food from 15 countries.

Almost half of the outbreaks occurred in 2009 and 2010. Seventeen of the outbreaks were caused by fish, and six outbreaks were caused by spices, including five from fresh or dried peppers. Nearly 45% of the foods causing the outbreaks came from Asia.

"As our food supply becomes more global, people are eating foods from all over the world, potentially exposing them to germs from all corners of the world, too," Gould said. "We saw an increased number of outbreaks due to imported foods during recent years, and more types of foods from more countries causing outbreaks."

For more information:

  • Gould L. Foodborne disease outbreaks associated with food imported into the United States, 2005-2010. Presented at: International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases; March 11-14, 2012; Atlanta.

Disclosures:Dr. Gould reports no relevant financial disclosures.

Herbert L. DuPont, MD


In the 1950s there were less than 500 different items in the average grocery store. Now there are 100-times the number of foods available. We have most fruits and vegetables available year round. This has been possible by the importation of foods from international regions. There is no practical way to test the foods imported into the US for microbial quality. The study focuses on the importance of imported foods to the problem of foodborne disease in the US. The CDC and FDA through the FoodNet program for identification of trends of enteric infection and through PulseNet program for detecting outbreak strains of bacterial pathogens have reduced the problem of foodborne disease. We now need to develop improved methods of screening foods for safety to prevent the occurrence of foodborne disease.

- Herbert L. DuPont, MD
Infectious Disease News Editorial Board member