Foodbourne Illness Outbreak Data Made Available Through New CDC Search Engine

Government health officials have announced a newly redesigned search engine tool that is designed to allow consumers to conveniently search for information about foodborne illness recalls and general information about outbreaks, including causes, sources, and prevention tips. 

On October 20, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the search engine, the Foodborne Outbreak Online Database (FOOD) Tool, has been redesigned to include new features to allow consumers to quickly search for contaminated foods and ingredients causing outbreaks.

The FOOD Tool was originally developed in 2009, and had only included data from foodborne outbreaks from 1998 to 2014. The newly redesigned version includes interactive features such as maps, graphs, and tables and specific search features to allow consumers to search by food groups, and ingredients.

The redesign will allow consumers to search foodborne disease data by year, state, and location of food preparation, ingredients, and the cause of the outbreak. The FOOD Tool now also offers statistical data to bring awareness to consumers of the different types of foodborne illnesses, number of illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths.

The FOOD Tool search engine information is received and recorded from data collected by the CDC’s Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System (FDOSS), which captures foodborne outbreak information caused by intestinal bacteria, viral, parasitic, and chemical agents that are reported by local, state, and territorial public health agencies. Data included in FOOD Tool’s database only contains foodborne disease outbreaks that have been reported to the CDC.

The CDC’s FoodNet recorded a total of 19,000 food poisoning reports in 2014 with 4,400 leading to hospitalization and 71 resulting in death. The CDC and the FDA have both expressed that many of those who become infected with foodborne infections do not report them, and let the infections run their course. However, some infections can cause extremely painful and potentially fatal outcomes if not treated by antibiotics. Some of the most common types of infections are Salmonella, Listeria, Norovirus, and E.coli, among many others.

Foodborne illnesses such as Salmonella and Listeria can cause serious infections, with symptoms like fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain typically lasting for a few days in healthy individuals. More than 1.2 million Americans are infected with Salmonella each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

These infections can be extremely dangerous to those with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly, children, and pregnant women. Some pregnant women who have caught the infections have reportedly suffered still births or miscarriages.

Typically less common foodborne infections that are still extremely harmful to consumers in the U.S. are Campylobacter and Vibrio, but according to the CDC, the infections have been rising in numbers steadily each year. Just in 2014, Campylobacter outbreaks increased 13% and Vibrio outbreaks increased by 52%.

Norovirus infection is also a major concern in the U.S. which, according to the CDC, is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the United States. It causes 19-21 million illnesses annually and contributes to 56,000-71,000 hospitalizations and 570-800 deaths. Norovirus can cause gastroenteritis, or inflammation of the stomach and intestines which may cause nausea, diarrhea, committing and stomach pain. The illness sets in almost immediately and usually lasts up to two days. Those with weakened immune system may experience more severe symptoms along with dehydration.

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