Sounds good, doesn’t it?
Well, it’s good — and sort of not good at the same time.
The All Over the Map national report card from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) awards Maryland its highest grade (an A) for reporting foodbourne illness to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The catch is that we earned that A grade by reporting more cases of foodbourne illness than other states.
The report, which used a decade of data from the CDC and CSPI, found Maryland was one of seven states to report about nine outbreaks per million people per year. They got the As. In contrast, 14 states reported just one outbreak per million people. They received Fs.
So why is reporting more food-related illness better?
“States that aggressively investigate outbreaks and report them to CDC can help nail down the foods that are responsible for making people sick,” said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. “But when states aren’t detecting outbreaks, interviewing victims, identifying suspect food sources, or connecting with federal officials, outbreaks can grow larger and more frequent, putting more people at risk.”
While it may seem a little counter-intuitive to award top grades to states reporting more outbreaks, the CPSI argues states reporting more issues likely have better systems for detection and reporting — not simply more outbreaks.
The report extrapolates that the states reporting very few outbreaks (and receiving Ds and Fs as grades) might lack funding for public health services. It suggests overburdened and understaffed health departments might have a hard time keeping up with outbreak investigations.
In Maryland, the most common pathogen was Salmonella (with 40 reported outbreaks), followed by Norovirus (35 outbreaks). Over the 10-year period, more than 6,800 people got sick leading to 141 hospitalizations and two deaths.
The report offers a couple of tips we, as consumers, can use to help the health department accurately track outbreaks of foodbourne illness:
- Notify the health department when you suspect you’ve been sickened by food and seek medical treatment as needed.
- If you seek medical treatment, encourage your physician to report the case to the health department. If your physician orders laboratory tests to confirm the diagnosis, follow through with the order.
The final recommendation in the report urges state legislators to consider the public health and economic impact of foodbourne illness when they make critical budget decisions. The CPSI asserts proper funding is the best way to ensure proper reporting, as well as support health department functions that can prevent outbreaks such as on-site inspections.
Want to learn more about food safety in your home? It’s right here on the Share the Health blog!