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Imported Food Responsible for Increasing Share of Disease Outbreaks, CDC Finds

Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

A recent study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that the number of reported disease outbreaks associated with imported foods has increased in both absolute and relative terms over the past 20 years.

According to the report, about 19 percent of food consumed in the U.S. is imported, a figure that has increased steadily over the past 20 years. Imports account for about 97 percent of fish and shellfish consumed, about 50 percent of fresh fruits, and about 20 percent of fresh vegetables.

The CDC found that a total of 195 foodborne disease outbreak investigations implicated an imported food from 1996 to 2014. However, the average number of import-associated outbreaks per year jumped from three during 1996-2000 to 18 during 2009-2014, and the percentage of such outbreaks as a share of total outbreaks rose from one percent to five percent during those same periods. The CDC notes that these numbers might actually be underreported because the origin of only a small proportion of foods causing outbreaks is reported.

The report states that Latin America and the Caribbean was the region most commonly implicated in these outbreaks, followed by Asia. Of the 31 total countries implicated, Mexico was the most frequently named (42 outbreaks), followed by Indonesia (17) and Canada (11). Many types of imported foods were associated with outbreaks but fish (most commonly imported from Asia) and fresh produce (most commonly imported from Latin America and the Caribbean) were most common.

The CDC suggests that one of the contributing factors to the rise in import-associated outbreaks is that only a small proportion of FDA-regulated foods, which accounted for nearly all of the outbreaks identified, are inspected upon entry into the U.S. The report expresses confidence that new rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act – including the preventive controls rule for human food, the produce safety rule, the foreign supplier verification program, and the accreditation of third-party auditors – will help strengthen the safety of imported foods by granting the FDA enhanced authorities to require that imported foods meet the same safety standards as foods produced domestically. The report also states that prevention focused on produce and seafood, the imported foods most commonly responsible for outbreaks, could help prevent such outbreaks.

For more information on imported food safety or requirements under the FSMA, please contact Shelly Garg at (305) 894-1043.

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