Food Safety:

CDC Is Working to Address Limitations in Several of Its Foodborne Disease Surveillance Systems

GAO-01-973: Published: Sep 7, 2001. Publicly Released: Oct 9, 2001.

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Foodborne diseases in the United States cause an estimated 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Surveillance is the most important tool for detecting and monitoring both existing and emerging foodborne diseases. In the United States, surveillance for foodborne disease is also used to identify outbreaks--two or more cases of a similar illness that result from ingestion of a common food--and their causes. CDC has 18 surveillance systems used to detect cases or outbreaks of foodborne disease, pinpoint their cause, recognize trends, and develop effective prevention and control measures. Four principal systems--the Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System, PulseNet, FoodNet, and the Surveillance Outbreak Detection Algorithm--focus on foodborne diseases and cover more than one pathogen. Although CDC's systems have contributed to food safety, the usefulness of several of these surveillance systems is impaired both by CDC's untimely release of surveillance data and by gaps in the data collection. CDC is providing funds to state and local health departments to address their staffing and technology needs to help the states provide CDC with more complete information. CDC officials have entered into a cooperative agreement with the Association of Public Health Laboratories to assess the states' capability and capacity to address public health issues, including foodborne disease. CDC consults annually with the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists to encourage more standardized reporting among states.

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