CDC data suggests some types of foodborne illnesses may be increasing in the US, but the issue is complex and linked to multiple factors. University of Vermont food science professor Catherine Donnelly says upticks in foodborne illness may be partly due to better surveillance, reporting, and investigation, along with tools to identify contamination in food. Matthew Wise, deputy branch chief for outbreak response at the CDC, said the agency usually gets “about 200 illness clusters” to evaluate each year. Wise described these clusters as “potential outbreaks.” Outbreaks are the very, very, very end of a long process,” he said.
An outbreak investigation includes collecting evidence, confirming an illness-causing pathogen and tracing contacts; most of this work is performed by state health departments, though it is coordinated by the CDC. Only about 15 of the 200 illness clusters investigated each year turn out to be actual outbreaks. As of Thursday, the CDC has declared 13 multistate outbreaks so far this year.
Lightbulb Moment: So much is wrapped up in this, it is hard to know where to begin. In the end, however, the big concern is how this affects consumers long term and their relationship with the companies involved. Past research shows 2 things. First, consumer’s response is a reaction to how a company handles a recall – what is their behavior in the aftermath and what do they do to make it right? Second, higher income, more educated consumers may abandon you temporarily but then come back. But lower-income consumers are more likely to abandon a company, permanently, due to a recall.