Foodborne illness is On the Rise — But Is It a Bad Thing?

Over the past few years, there have been more food poisoning outbreaks than ever. But while this seems like a bad thing, there is actually one explanation that sheds a positive light on more outbreaks. Researchers have found several things to which to attribute a rise in foodborne illness, but the bottom line is it’s likely something we’ll always have to deal with.

Junk foodFood poisoning outbreaks are on the rise. | Mukhina1/iStock/Getty Images

About 1 in 10 people in the world will get food poisoning each year

If you ask around among your neighbors and friends, odds are one of them either knows someone who has had food poisoning or has actually had it themselves. It’s not unheard of to contract a foodborne illness. According to the World Health Organization, about 10% of the population gets food poisoning annually (760 million), and it results in about 420,000 deaths. In the United States, the CDC suggests about 3,000 people die annually and 48 million get sick.

And recently, experts suggest there has been a rise in the number of foodborne illness outbreaks in the U.S. and around the world. Between January and July 2018, there were nearly a dozen food recalls in the U.S. over salmonella concerns, which is only one type of foodborne illness.

Global changes and food evolvement have led to an increase in food poisoning outbreaks

There are several reasons why food poisoning may be more common now than it used to be. One reason has to do with imported food. Today, more than 90% of seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported from other parts of the world. The outrageous amount of imports and exports means it is nearly impossible for food to be monitored closely enough to catch any sign of disease. Plus, different food trends and evolvements in the food industry are always happening, leaving an open door for outbreaks to pop up.

Some researchers suggest that global warming has something to do with the outbreaks as well. Vibrio vulnificus, a flesh-eating bacteria usually found in raw oysters, has been showing itself more frequently — and some attribute it to rising ocean temperatures. A warmer environment means the bacteria thrive, and those who consume raw oysters are at a greater risk of food poisoning. Vibrio vulnificus can be very dangerous, and fatalities are not uncommon. With the world’s food scene in constant change, it only makes sense that foodborne illnesses are increasing.

But more outbreaks may mean an improvement in the technology that discovers them

There is a plus side to more outbreaks and recalls: Technology is improving. Today, there are tools to better detect potential illness outbreaks that weren’t around years ago. And outbreaks are more reported today than they once were, leading the CDC and health organizations to better detect outbreaks and stop them. It’s possible that the reason we’ve seen so many more food recalls is simply because we have more advanced technology that may not have spotted a pathogen 10 or 20 years ago.

Databases today hold more information than ever before, and according to CNN, those databases are better linked with the CDC than they used to be, making it easy for health officials to identify patterns of foodborne illness.

While outbreaks may be on the rise, it’s important to remember that medical technology is also constantly advancing. You may always be at risk of developing a foodborne illness, but medicine has helped tame these diseases. Always cook food thoroughly before consuming it, and make sure to stay up to date on outbreaks and recalls via the CDC’s website.

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