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Report: Foodborne Illnesses More Likely to Come from Restaurants


You’re much more likely to get a foodborne illness eating at a restaurant than in your own home, according to a new report.

The study is from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington D.C.-based think tank.

Researchers at the CSPI crunched illness outbreak data for a ten-year period ending in 2011 and they found that tainted restaurant food sickened more than 28,000 people. That number is more than double the number sickened in home-cooked meals, the report found.

The underlying food safety issues in restaurants come down to accountability and transparency, according to Sarah Klein, an attorney with the CSPI. Local public health departments are often understaffed and underfunded, Klein says, and many states don’t force restaurants to display their health code violations.

“You’d have no way of knowing if your favorite restaurant is holding food at the right temperature to keep bacteria from growing or if they’re training their workers adequately or allowing those workers adequate sick leave so that they’re not bringing norovirus into the kitchen,” Klein said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Preventionestimates some 48 million people are sickened annually from foodborne illnesses, and of those, about 3,000 die. The CSPI report looked at a fraction of the total foodborne related illnesses, because it focused on “solved outbreaks,” in which CDC investigators found both a food and a harmful pathogen.

“Unfortunately, fewer and fewer outbreaks were solved by public health officials over the 10-year period, leaving a lot of important information undiscovered in the data,” the report’s authors wrote.

That’s another headline from the food safety study: the CSPI found that states are reporting fewer and fewer foodborne illness outbreaks to the CDC. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there are fewer outbreaks, but rather that local public health departments are increasingly turning their attention elsewhere and failing to follow foodborne illnesses.