Poultry, beef, leafy greens are top sources of foodborne illness

More than 1,000 foodborne disease outbreaks hit the U.S. in 2007, with poultry, beef or leafy vegetables the most commonly identified causes, according to a new report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Yet in more than half of the 1,097 outbreaks reported that year, a cause was never identified.

The figures arrive as a bipartisan group of Senate lawmakers are preparing to introduce a food-safety bill designed to prevent such illnesses by granting the Food and Drug Administration greater powers to recall tainted food, quarantine problem regions and examine the records of the nation's food producers.

“Knowing more about what types of foods and foodborne agents have caused outbreaks can help guide public health and the food industry in developing measures to effectively control and prevent infections and help people stay healthy,” Chris Braden, acting director of the CDC’s division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases, said Thursday in a statement announcing the new report.

Among the notable CDC findings:

• Of the 1,097 outbreaks, one foodborne agent was found to be responsible in 497 cases (45 percent), while more than one agent was identified as the cause of 12 additional cases. No cause was identified in the remaining 588 reported outbreaks.

• The outbreaks led directly to 21,244 illnesses and 18 deaths, state investigators reported.

• In cases when a cause was identified, norovirus was to blame 39 percent of the time, followed by salmonella (27 percent).

Norovirus, CDC notes, spreads most commonly when food handlers don't wash their hands after using the bathroom. Salmonella, on the other hand, is spread most often by foods contaminated with animal feces.