Here’s Why There Have Been So Many Food Recalls This Year, According to the FDA

If you thought 2018 seemed like the Year of the Foodborne Illness, there’s likely a good reason for that.

Year to date, there have been 22 outbreaks investigated by the Center for Disease Control, including the dangerous E. coli outbreak currently linked to romaine lettuce. It’s the highest number of total investigations compared to the past 12 years—but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb says that’s not necessarily because more food has suddenly become “unsafe.”

“I think what’s happening is that we have better technology than ever before to link outbreaks of human illness to a common pathogen,” Gottlieb told CNN.

The CDC identifies an outbreak by using public health surveillance methods like PulseNet that test and detect foodborne illnesses in sick people. CNN reports that the agency can then link the identified pathogens back to a specific food source.
The CDC has also expanded their reach by informing the public of an investigation with updated posts on their website, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

Gottlieb told CNN that what they haven’t been able to do is immediately trace an outbreak back to a single distributor, like in the case of romaine lettuce, which is still unsafe to eat.

Last week, it was reported that 32 people in 11 states in the U.S. became ill, while 18 people in Ontario and Quebec have also reported sickness related to eating the vegetable. By Friday, it was announced that the infected lettuce was “likely from California based on growing and harvesting patterns,” Gottlieb wrote on Twitter, though a single grower was not named. (A representative for the CDC could not immediately be reached by PEOPLE for an update on the investigation.)

But the commissioner also added on Twitter that they are working on a solution that could help the issue.

“We’re working with growers and distributors on labeling produce for location and harvest date and possibly other ways of informing consumers that the product is ‘post-purge’,” he said of the romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak. “One goal we’re seeking is to make this type of labeling the new standard rather than a short-term fix; as a way to improve identitifaction [sic] and traceability in the system.”

A similarly high profile food recall that took place this year was in relation to Honey Smacks cereal. Because a salmonella outbreak linked to the cereal left 100 people sick in at least 36 states, the Kellogg’s product was pulled from shelves for more than four months. This month, they started reintroducing the cereal to U.S. retailers in limited quantities after altering the recipe and moving production to a new facility.

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