By Julie Steenhuysen
CHICAGO (Reuters) - More than 80 percent of cases of a certain E. coli illness were linked to beef and vegetables grown in rows, according to a U.S. government report on Tuesday.
Salmonella infections were traced to a wider variety of foods ranging from tomatoes and sprouts to chicken, beef and pork, the report released on Tuesday by three federal agencies charged with food safety showed.
The report produced by the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration is a partnership of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is the first time the three federal agencies charged with food safety are using a single method to estimate sources of foodborne illnesses.
The report comes amid calls to for a single food safety agency, as proposed in President Barack Obama's 2016 federal budget plan. It is also outlined in a bill by Illinois Democratic Senator Richard Durbin and Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut.
The report used data from nearly 1,000 outbreaks between 1998 and 2012 to find foods responsible for illness from four major foodborne bacteria, Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157 (E. coli O157), Listeria monocytogenes and Campylobacter.
According to CDC estimates, these four pathogens cause 1.9 million cases of foodborne illness in the United States each year.
Researchers broke down the outbreaks into 17 categories of foods. They found just two food categories accounted for most illnesses caused by Campylobacter, E. coli O157, and Listeria, but seven categories accounted for a similar percentage of Salmonella illnesses.
Of the findings, 74 percent of Campylobacter illnesses were caused by dairy (66 percent) or chicken (8 percent), 82 percent of E. coli O157 illnesses were caused by beef (46 percent) or vegetables grown in rows (36 percent), and 81 percent of Listeria illnesses were caused by either fruits (50 percent) or dairy (31 percent).
With salmonella, the range was broader, with 77 percent of illnesses attributed to vegetables grown from seeds (18 percent), eggs (12 percent), fruits (12 percent), chicken (10 percent), sprouts (8 percent), beef (9 percent), and pork (8 percent).
Dr. Chris Braden of CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases, said a single methodology allows agencies to better coordinate their efforts. "We can do more as a group than we can individually."
(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Diane Craft)