The CDC Takes on Foodborne Disease Outbreaks as Chipotle Faces E. Coli

In light of yet another food poisoning scare, the agency called out the food industry and government for not doing enough.


On Monday, Chipotle temporarily shut down over 40 of its restaurants after an E. coli outbreak sickened 22 people. It’s the third time since August that the burrito chain has experienced an outbreak of food poisoning, but the midrange burrito kings are not alone in spreading foodborne disease. In a teleconference held today, the CDC called on the food industry and government to step up their food safety game.

An average of 24 multistate outbreaks have happened annually in the past five years, according to the CDC’s accompanying report, released through its Vital Signs service. While multistate outbreaks caused 56 percent of all foodborne disease-related deaths between 2010 and 2014, what’s more concerning is that those multistate outbreaks only made up 3 percent of all foodborne outbreaks in general. Curbing these far-reaching outbreaks is key to reducing the number of food poisoning-related fatalities.

According to the report, the most deadly foodborne pathogens are E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria, which are responsible for 91 percent of the multistate outbreaks. Accidentally ingesting these bugs via contaminated food can lead to vomiting and bloody diarrhea and may lead to potentially life-threatening complications like bacterial meningitis.

The pathogens are most often found in vegetables, beef, chicken, and fresh fruits — foods that tend to travel the longest distances before reaching diners. The report suggests that the rise in centralized processing and distribution could be to blame for the increased frequency and size of multistate outbreaks.

Almost half of the outbreaks, the CDC reports, result in product recalls. Unfortunately for restaurants like Chipotle, product recalls don’t happen until it’s too late.

“Americans should not have to worry about getting sick from the food they eat,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden in a press release. Shelving those fears for good, however, will require the concerted effort of the food industry, its suppliers, and government policymakers.

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