Foodborne Illness Outbreak | 5 mins read

Top Foodborne Illness Outbreaks and How To Prevent Them

top foodborne illness outbreaks and how to prevent them
Dakota Sheetz

By Dakota Sheetz

The Top Most Recent Foodborne Illness Outbreaks in the US

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Before we look at the latest foodborne illness outbreaks let's do a brief backgrounder to give us a clearer understanding of the incidents.

Causes of Foodborne Illness Outbreaks
Foodborne illnesses are caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, and toxins. Here are some of the more familiar culprits.

  • Salmonella - Salmonella lives in the intestines. Symptoms include abdominal cramps, fever, and, most dangerously, diarrhea. Fortunately, when treated, most people recover within 4 to 7 days.
  • Cyclospora - Cyclospora is a parasite that infects the bowels. A cyclospora infection is due to eating contaminated raw fruits and vegetables. Symptoms include diarrhea, stomach cramps, and tiredness. Untreated cyclospora may last for a few days to a month.
  • Listeria - Listeria is a bacteria that causes a disease with symptoms that include fever, headache, tiredness, and general aches and pains. Treatment is through antibiotics
  • E. Coli - A name for a group of bacteria that reside in the intestines. E. Colie causes urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, and diarrhea.
Typically people recover from foodborne illness with little or no treatment. However, there will be some situations when treatment and hospitalization are needed.

Foodborne Illness Outbreaks in the US
Here are the recorded foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States for the year 2020-

  • Salmonella outbreak due to Wood Ear Mushrooms. This affected 41 people from 10 states and resulted in 4 hospitalizations. The ingredient was delivered to restaurants only and was distributed by Wismettac Asian Food, Inc.
  • Salmonella outbreak due to Peaches. The supplier was Wawona Packing Co. This affected 78 people in 12 states and resulted in 23 hospitalizations.
  • Salmonella outbreak due to Onions. These were supplied by Thomson International. 1,012 people were infected in 47 states with 136 hospitalizations.
  • Cyclospora outbreak because of a bagged salad mix. The salad mix was from the Fresh Express brand. 701 people were affected in 14 states resulting in 38 hospitalizations.
  • Listeria outbreak from Enoki Mushrooms. The mushrooms came from three places- H&C Food, Guan's Mushroom, and Sung Hong Foods. 36 people affected by 17 states with 31 hospitalizations. Tragically, some of the people affected were pregnant and this incident resulted in 2 fetal losses.
  • E. Coli outbreak due to Clover Sprouts. This was due to the consumption of sprouts after the expiration date. 51 people were infected from 10 states with 3 hospitalizations.
These six recorded outbreaks are just from 2020 and they are being set down with several months more left to the year. Last year, 2019, there were 17 recorded outbreaks.

Now that we've looked at the causes of foodborne illnesses and actual outbreaks that have happened let's look at prevention.

How To Prevent a Foodborne Illness Outbreak

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The U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitors the situation on the national level. The FDA is reactive to outbreaks in order to control infection and prevent further damage. It is proactive in evaluating how future outbreaks can be prevented.

The FDA has a group called the CORE Network. According to the CORE Network site-

With CORE, FDA brought together expertise in medicine, public health, and science to coordinate its efforts to find, stop, and prevent foodborne illness outbreaks. In CORE, full-time teams work on various aspects of investigations from beginning to end. They hit the ground running on new outbreaks, which speeds the response, ensures continuity, and standardizes processes.

Ways to Prevent Foodborne Illness
Whether you are a restaurant, a catering service, or an individual here are the ways to prevent foodborne illness outbreaks.

  • Make sure food is completely cooked. Bacteria like Salmonella cannot survive cooking. This is true as well for toxin-causing algae in shellfish. When in doubt of hygienic preparation keep away from raw or lightly cooked food.
  • Don't wash meat by dunking it in water. Dunking the meat in water can spread germs from parts of the meat to other parts, maybe even to other foods or kitchen surfaces, increasing the chance for infection. Wash meat under flowing water
  • Be conscious of food contact. A contaminated piece of meat and vegetable can infect other foods by simple contact. They can also transfer germs to other food if you use the same utensil for infected food with other food.
  • Make it a habit to wash knives and other utensils when using them on different foods. Always wipe down kitchen surfaces to keep them clean from infections.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables. Even if you are going to eat fruits and vegetables raw washing the rind or skin will remove any contaminants.
  • Store fish at the proper temperature. Failing to refrigerate fish for prolonged periods will encourage the spread of histamine produced by bacteria.
  • Consume pasteurized foods. Pasteurization is a method of heating food that kills germs. It is advisable to patronize pasteurized foods - this is usually applicable to dairy products like milk and cheese.
  • Do not eat damaged eggs or eggs with dirty shells. Eggs are a source of Salmonella which can be particularly risky when eating undercooked or raw eggs.


  • A foodborne illness outbreak occurs when two or more people become sick when eating the same food.
  • Foodborne illnesses are caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, and toxins.
  • Some of the more common causes of food poisoning are Salmonella, Cyclospora, Listeria, and E. Coli.
  • There have been six recorded outbreaks in 2020 and seventeen in 2019.
  • The FDA and its CORE Network group is tasked with protecting the US from foodborne illness outbreaks on a federal level.
  • There are many ways to lessen or eliminate the chances of foodborne illness outbreaks including cooking food properly, washing food properly, being conscious of how germs can spread, and proper food storage.