Another reason that the finding that restaurants were implicated in more foodborne outbreaks is significant is that it validates the call for more transparency in food safety inspections of restaurants.
“These are inspections that are performed to prevent foodborne illness, paid for by taxpayer dollars, and yet they are largely hidden from the public in filing cabinets in back of the health department,” she said.
Most consumers in many parts of the country find it next to impossible to access inspections for restaurants.
CSPI favors a letter grade system for food safety inspections, which Klein said can drive food safety improvements in restaurants.
Because of under reporting of foodborne illness, Klein said it is impossible to know the true number of outbreaks at restaurants and at homes. Klein said it is entirely plausible that there could be much more outbreaks coming from private homes, or that restaurants had even more outbreaks than the statistics show.
“The under reporting of foodborne illness makes a vast quantity of illnesses that are unattributable to a location,” she said.
Klein said health departments are underfunded, understaffed and under supported.
The CSPI report fond that fresh produce was responsible for the greatest overall number of outbreaks and illnesses from 2002 to 2011. However, when measured by risk of illness based on per pound of food consumed, fresh produce was among the safest foods to eat, according to the CSPI report. The trend for produce-related outbreaks turned lower from 2008 to 2011. With data not yet available for 2012 and 2013, Klein said it was impossible to say if there continues to be a lessening of produce-related outbreaks.
“We’re hopeful that the (Food Safety Modernization Act) will improve produce safety and that’s why we have been working so hard to get the regs from FDA as close to right and as close to done as they can be,” she said.
The CSPI report looked at 3,933 outbreaks that occurred in the most recent 10-year period. Of that total, the CSPI report said 667 foodborne illness outbreaks were caused by produce, compared with 602 for seafood, 413 for poultry, 324 for beef and 202 for dairy.