Fish And Spices Top List of Imported Foods That Make Us Sick | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Fish And Spices Top List of Imported Foods That Make Us Sick

Disease outbreaks with imported foods are on the rise, and fish and spices are the foods most likely to cause problems.

It's not that imported foods are any nastier than home-grown, according to a presentation today from researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's that we're eating a lot more of them.

"Since the late 1990s the amount of food that's imported has doubled," says Hannah Gould, an epidemiologist at the CDC who's been studying imported food and food safety. "The number of outbreaks has mirrored that."

But outbreaks caused by imported foods tend to affect a lot more people, since they're sold in multiple states. Typically just one to two percent of food outbreaks affect people in more than one state, Gould says. But with imported foods, 25 percent of the 39 outbreaks affected more than one state.

And the CDC thinks that problems with imported food are under-reported, because people often don't know the source of the food.

More than three-quarters of seafood consumed in the United States is imported. And those imported fish are the biggest food safety problem — 45 percent of the outbreaks caused by imported food from 2005 to 2010 involved seafood, according to the new data from the CDC released today.

Spices may be good for the heart but they can also be risky; 15 percent of the imported food outbreaks were caused by spices. Imported spices often have pathogens on them because of they way they are harvested and dried.

The Salt recently reported on Salmonella contamination in organic celery seed. Many spices are irradiated to kill pathogens, but organic seeds often aren't.

Spice outbreaks are especially hard for disease detectives to track, Gould says, because people don't think of them as a discrete item in their diet. "They're part of other food," she tells The Salt.

She reported the results of the study today at the meeting of the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases on Atlanta.

The new Food Safety Modernization Act calls for more inspection of imported food. But those inspections are still in the works.

Knowing that imported foods are a growing source of outbreaks shouldn't change how we eat — as long as we're taking the right precautions.

"Consumers should approach safety the way they always have," says Gould. "Cook, separate, chill — follow prevention measures."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit


'Team America' Is Benched: Won't Return To Theaters, Reports Say

One day after some U.S. theaters vowed to screen Team America: World Police in the place of The Interview, whose release was canceled, word has emerged that Team America has also been pulled.

What The Change In U.S.-Cuba Relations Might Mean For Food

The decision to normalize relations is driving all kinds of speculation about American food companies opening up shop in Cuba. But analysts say: Don't expect to see McDonald's there anytime soon.
WAMU 88.5

Environmental Group Calls On Maryland To Ban Fracking

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network is calling on Maryland to follow the lead of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who this week put a moratorium on the natural gas-extraction process.

North Korea Has Invested Heavily In Cyberattacks

American officials have concluded that North Korea was behind the hack of Sony Pictures Company. Melissa Block talks to James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.