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Number of foodborne illnesses associated with outbreaks in tomatoes decreased since 2001

About 48 million episodes of foodborne illness and 3,000 deaths occur per year in the United States. The most common foodborne pathogens cause an estimated annual burden of $14 billion to $36 billion. Produce has been implicated in 46 percent of foodborne illness outbreaks. Tomatoes have been the source of a number of foodborne illness outbreaks since 1998, but the annual number of foodborne illnesses associated with outbreaks in tomatoes has generally decreased since their high of nearly 900 in 2001. Ten outbreaks have caused more than 100 illnesses, while 2 were associated with deaths of individuals. In 2005 and 2006, multistate outbreaks of salmonella in tomatoes sickened 487 individuals.

The most prominent recent case, which involved the food chain Chipotle in 2015, sickened 119 individuals with E. coli and hospitalized 17. Although the FDA never identified a single field or source of contamination, Chipotle was reported to have traced the contaminated tomatoes back to a farm in Virginia. In unrelated cases, contamination was traced back to irrigation pond water on Virginia farms; animal waste, farm surfaces, and ditch water on a Florida farm; and unknown sources on three farms in Ohio. This chart appears in the ERS report, “U.S. Produce Growers' Decisionmaking Under Evolving Food Safety Standards,” released in June 2019.

 


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