By Julian Pecquet - 01/19/11 10:07 PM EST
States vary greatly in how well they report foodborne illnesses, according to a new report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, leaving Americans at risk.
The report, titled "All Over the Map," gave seven states "A"s for aggressively tracking foodborne illnesses, while 14 states were given an "F."
"States that aggressively investigate outbreaks and report them to CDC can help nail down the foods that are responsible for making people sick," CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal said in a statement. "But when states aren't detecting outbreaks, interviewing victims, identifying suspect food sources, or connecting with federal officials, outbreaks can grow larger and more frequent, putting more people at risk."
The report used 10 years' worth of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and CSPI to assign a letter grade to the 50 states. States that reported few outbreaks of foodborne illnesses were given the worst grades, under the premise that they're not avoiding foodborne illness but rather doing a poor job tracking them.
Oregon and Minnesota, states that CSPI says have "excellent laboratory facilities and public health departments" that quickly interview people who are believed to have been sickened, earned an "A". So did five states that report high numbers of outbreaks —Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Washington, and Wyoming.
Fourteen states earned "F"s because they reported just one outbreak per 1 million people: Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia.
The report also mentions what it calls a "troubling trend": The percentage of solved outbreaks — those with both an identified food and an identified pathogen — declined from 1998 through 2007.
The safety of the nation's food supply made national news last year as Congress debated — and ultimately passed — food safety legislation.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), one of the law's harshest critics, said during the debate that "America has the safest food supply in the world, and it has never been safer." However, the CDC estimates that one in six Americans — about 48 million people — suffer from a foodborne illness every year. The CDC says 128,000 end up in the hospital from the illnesses each year and 3,000 die.