Why Food Poisoning Outbreaks Appear To Be On The Rise
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the center is investigating five new cases of E. coli linked to Chipotle restaurants. More than 50 people in nine states were infected in an outbreak that began in October. Reporter Joanne Silberner is here to talk about why food outbreaks keep happening and what they mean to eaters like us.
Joanne, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than a quarter of a million people get sick from E. coli infections every year and 48 million people - if you count all kinds of food poisoning - 48 million people get sick. Why do these outbreaks keep appearing?
JOANNE SILBERNER, BYLINE: Good question. There are many reasons. One is that restaurant food is getting more complicated, different ingredients coming from around the world and around the country. There's also more reporting. You know, it's more in the news and on social media. You know, you'll notice it if another few people in your town are sick and you might get to chatting, so you're more aware 'cause most food outbreaks are not reported. But with social media you may be suspicious and you may realize it's a good idea to call the public health department if you think something's going on. And really the bottom line as always is that bacteria and viruses are smarter than us. They're great at finding places to hide and they're great at finding ways to sneak into the body.
WERTHEIMER: Is there anything different, do you think, about these Chipotle outbreaks?
SILBERNER: Well, one thing that's a little different is that it was noticed. It was identified. Most food outbreaks go unidentified. Another interesting thing about it is it continued despite a really major effort by Chipotle to clean things up. There's a challenge for the company. It's made its name by using fresh ingredients prepared in-house. That's their whole shtick.
WERTHEIMER: Like making the guacamole.
SILBERNER: And cutting the tomatoes and grating the cheese in-house, and those two things are going to change. They're go to be doing the tomatoes and the cheese at a central location and they're doing a lot more testing.
WERTHEIMER: So what do you think we ought to do to protect ourselves from food poisoning?
SILBERNER: Well, if you're going out to a restaurant, you should look for ones with clean kitchens and places for workers to wash up. And at home - because a whole lot of cases occur at home - make sure your cooking utensils are clean. Separate out raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods. Cook your foods thoroughly and refrigerate them when they're ready to go into the refrigerator. And if you're sick, do not prepare food for others.
WERTHEIMER: OK, here's a bonus question. Congress passed legislation to really beef up the food safety system. Why didn't things get better?
SILBERNER: Well, the legislation passed in 2011 and with great hope and great fanfare Congress didn't really adequately fund it. So there wasn't a lot of money to come up with rules and regulations. The rules and regulations are finally being finished this year. And in the omnibus act that just passed funding the government, some people will consider it not enough, but there's a lot more money coming up this year for food safety than there has been before. So maybe things will get better.
WERTHEIMER: Reporter Joanne Silberner, thank you very much.
SILBERNER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.