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CDC Results Shows Dairy Products are Leading Cause of Hospitalizations in Food Illness Survey

Statement of CSPI Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaal

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One surprising fact consumers should take away from the CDC study of foodborne illnesses between 1998 and 2008 is that dairy products, including milk, cheese, and ice cream, are big contributors to foodborne illness. Dairy products ranked as the leading cause of hospitalizations linked to foodborne illness; second to leafy greens in the numbers of illnesses; and second to poultry in the numbers of deaths. While CDC does not give much detail, CSPI's own analysis and ranking of the 10 Riskiest Foods Regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2009) identified ice cream and cheese as among the top 10 causes of illnesses linked to outbreaks.

The risk from dairy products has increased in recent years with the increased rise in popularity of unpasteurized raw milk and cheeses. People who consume unpasteurized dairy products have no protection from hazards like E. coli O157 and Salmonella that are commonly found in dairy cattle.

CDC's finding that leafy greens are a top contributor to foodborne illness is no surprise. The fact that three of the produce categories ("leafy greens," "fruits and nuts," "vine-stalk vegetables") show up as top contributors to illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths underscores the need for rapid implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act's new regulations to improve the safety of fresh fruits and vegetables, announced on January 4. Additional regulations are also long overdue for imported products that would be covered under the Act. Improvements will also require new funding for inspections and testing at both the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).