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New University of Florida Study Highlights Need for Better Data About Which Foods Cause Foodborne Illnesses

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Attribute Statement to AMI Executive Vice President James H. Hodges

Washington, DC, April 28, 2011 -- “The U.S. meat and poultry industry benefits when our products are as safe as we can make them, and that’s our goal every day that we produce our products.  A report from the University of Florida is a novel new analysis of food safety, but highlights an area that should be strengthened:  our lack of data that clearly identifies which foods cause foodborne illnesses.

The University of Florida researchers note that this is a weakness of their report saying, ‘Our results are limited by uncertainties in underlying data, none more so than gaps in our ability to confidently attribute cases of foodborne illnesses to specific foods.’  Given this lack of clear attribution data, the researchers were forced to make many assumptions about which foods causes various foodborne illnesses and they layer additional assumptions about the costs of those illnesses upon them.  It’s difficult to build strong conclusions upon weak assumptions, yet that’s what they were forced to do.

In September 2010, the American Meat Institute (AMI) wrote to the Centers for Disease Control urging them to improve their collection of attribution data.  In the letter, we said that better data will help to identify emerging foodborne risks.

While the data that the University of Florida researchers had to reply upon was imprecise, federal data about the prevalence of bacteria on foods paint a much clearer picture.  U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) sampling data tell us that bacteria on many meat and poultry products have declined dramatically – a reassuring fact.  Specifically, USDA FSIS data show that: 

We are confident that the strategies we use in our meat and poultry plants are creating an increasingly safe meat and poultry supply. We look forward to improved foodborne illness attribution data that will reinforce that and reassure consumers that confidence in the U.S. meat and poultry supply is well-placed.”

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