More than 100 people have fallen ill with a potential case of food poisoning after attending a national Food Safety Summit earlier this month in Baltimore. Health officials in Maryland haven’t yet been able to identify the source of the outbreak.
The conference, held during the second week of April at the Baltimore Convention Center, attracted more than 1,500 food safety professionals — including government employees from the FDA and CDC, as well as representatives from fast food restaurants like McDonald’s. About 12 hours after eating a meal there, guests started reporting symptoms like nausea and diarrhea that are commonly associated with foodborne illnesses. The irony hasn’t been lost on the internet.
Jokes aside, though, food poisoning is an incredibly common experience in this country. About 48 million Americans are sickened by foodborne pathogens every single year — and more than 125,000 of them get sick enough to make a trip to the hospital. Foodborne illnesses cost the United States an estimated $77 billion annually in medical costs and lost productivity. Some research suggests that, although most people experience a few days of symptoms that end up passing quickly, some people who get food poisoning actually suffer from long-term health problems.
But according to the CDC’s most recent data on the issue, which was released earlier this month, the United States isn’t getting any better at preventing these outbreaks. The CDC compared the food poisoning rates for the major disease agents over the past several years and found that they’ve either increased or stayed the same throughout the country — we haven’t successfully lowered any of them.
That’s partly because the federal agencies that oversee food safety have been plagued with budget cuts, something that’s directly contributed to fewer food inspections. In 2011, President Obama signed the first major food safety overhaul in over 70 years, but FDA officials warn it won’t be able to be effectively implemented without more funding. The president has also been criticized for cutting funds for poultry inspection in his 2015 budget.