Food-poisoning outbreaks caused by imported food products – particularly fish and spices – rose in 2009 and 2010, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The new report, presented at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases in Atlanta, found nearly half of the outbreaks were from foods imported from countries and areas that were previously believed to be safe.
"It's too early to say if the recent numbers represent a trend, but CDC officials are analyzing information from 2011 and will continue to monitor for these outbreaks in the future," said lead researcher Hannah Gould, disease detective in CDC's Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases.
According to the CDC study:
• Between 2005 and 2010, 39 foodborne illness outbreaks and 2,348 illnesses were linked to imported food from 15 countries.
• Nearly half of the outbreaks occurred in 2009 and 2010.
• Fish were found to be the most common cause -- tied to 17 outbreaks -- followed by spices (six outbreaks including five from fresh or dried peppers).
• Nearly 45 percent of the imported foods causing outbreaks came from Asia.
According to the Department of Agriculture, U.S. food imports grew from $41 billion in 1998 to $78 billion in 2007. Fruits and vegetables, seafood and processed food products were the biggest sources of that growth. Up to 85 percent of the seafood eaten in the United States is imported; up to 60 percent of fresh produce is imported.