CT Gets A “C” On Containing Foodborne Illness

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A national advocacy organization gives Connecticut a “C” rating in its efforts to contain foodborne illness.

However, the state says the ranking system is flawed.

The Center for Science In The Public Interest gave the state the grade for its reporting and investigation of food poisoning cases, in a recent report of all 50 states. Eight states fell in the “C” range by reporting between four and five outbreaks per million residents.  The states receiving the highest grades were those reporting more outbreaks because CSPI associated higher numbers with rigorous tracking and investigation.

“We question the validity of their assumptions,” said William Gerrish, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Health. He called Connecticut’s surveillance program “robust and active.”

The report identified Minnesota, with eight outbreaks per million, and Oregon, with nine per million, as “benchmark states.”

“We’re pleased that our numbers were lower than Minnesota or Oregon or some of the others,” said Gerrish. He noted that Connecticut is a member of the Centers for Disease Control’s Food Net, a surveillance network that incorporates 10 states. “To be a part of that you have to be recognized as having a strong surveillance system,” he said.

State and local health departments coordinate to investigate these cases, and the state offers training in surveillance and prevention, Gerrish said.

The report said that state and local health officials reported 136 outbreaks of foodborne illness in Connecticut to the CDC between 1998 and 2007. No one died in any of the incidents, though 2,173 illnesses and 58 hospitalizations were recorded. In 80 of those outbreaks, the pathogen and food source were both identified. The most common pathogen identified in Connecticut was norovirus, followed by salmonella.

CSPI noted a national decline in outbreaks that were “solved,” meaning the pathogen and food source were identified. It called for increased funding for state and local health departments to do the detective work to identify dangerous food before outbreaks spread, more federal assistance for these efforts and increased awareness among consumers and physicians.