"Overall we are seeing a decline in risky food consumption and that may be attributable to published media reports of foodborne outbreaks and outreach efforts by the public health community," says Erica Weis of the California Department of Health Services, the lead author on the study.
Weis and her colleagues compared data from two Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) telephone surveys conducted in 1998 and 2002, in which subjects were asked about foods they had consumed in the previous week. Specifically they looked at whether the subject had consumed one of 7 "risky foods" known to be associated with an increased risk of foodborne illness:
- pink hamburgers
- pink ground beef
- raw fresh fish
- raw oysters
- raw/unpasteurized milk
- runny eggs
- alfalfa sprouts
In 1998, 31% of those surveyed said that they had consumed one or more risky foods in the previous week. By 2002, that number had dropped to 21%. The most commonly reported risky food item consumed was runny eggs.
Men aged 18-64 were more likely to report consuming risky foods than women of the same age group (38% vs. 30%) and Asians/Pacific Islanders were more likely to consume risky foods than whites (32% vs. 21%). The safest eaters were African Americans, only 15% of whom reported consuming one or more risky foods in the 2002 survey.
Among subjects under the age of 18, those who were immunocompromised were much more likely to consume risky foods compared to healthy subjects (21% vs. 14%).
"Consumption of risky foods declined significantly in 2002 compared to 1998. However, in the future there needs to be more targeted outreach to those groups that continue to have high levels of risky food consumption," says Weis. The research was conducted by a working group that included investigators from the California Department of Health Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Connecticut Emerging Infections Program, the Georgia Division of Public Health, the Tennessee Department of Health and the Oregon Department of Human Services.
The International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases is organized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Society for Microbiology, the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, the Association of Public Health Laboratories and the World Health Organization. More information on the meeting can be found online at www.iceid.org.