A new report from nonprofit consumer group the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has found that not only are states reporting and solving fewer foodborne illness outbreaks, but states vary widely in their outbreak reporting rates.

The report--All Over the Map: A 10-Year Review of State Outbreak Reporting--shows that between 2003 and 2012, the 50-state analysis uncovered that states reported and solved fewer foodborne illness outbreaks. CSPI’s findings are based on data reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Amongst the consumer groups findings are:

- Between 2009 and 2012, states reported 30 percent fewer outbreaks to the CDC vs. the previous 6 years

- In 2003, the rate of solved foodborne outbreaks was 41 percent; it fell to just 29 percent in 2012

Because the definition of an outbreak varies from state to state, CSPI’s report does acknowledge that this certainly impacts their findings. It also highlights a bigger picture--states that report more outbreaks might be doing so because they are serious about making public health a priority. States reporting high rates of outbreaks include Hawaii, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oregon and Wyoming--each of which reported eight or more outbreaks per million residents. The vigilance exhibited in these states goes a long way to help identify and prevent future outbreaks.

There were 19 states that only reported one outbreak. CSPI says that states reporting fewer outbreaks might be due to lack of funding, staffing or a host of other issues. And this can be a detriment to public health in the long run.

“...when states aren’t detecting outbreaks, interviewing victims, identifying suspect food sources, or connecting with federal officials, outbreaks can grow larger and more frequent, putting more people at risk.” says CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal.

Dr. Craig W. Hedberg, professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Minnesota summarizes that, “In addition to the immediate benefits of stopping an outbreak during its early stages, the lessons learned from outbreak investigations are critical for identifying gaps in our food safety systems, and for developing more effective prevention strategies. Being able to tell the story of why one outbreak happened helps others understand how a similar outbreak could happen to them. That understanding can help change behavior.”

CSPI recommends that states implement complaint-based reporting systems such as hotlines that allow consumers to easily notify state and local health departments of foodborne illnesses. Most important, says CSPI, is that consumers who suspect they have contracted a foodborne illness seek medical attention and report the illness to their local health department.