The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA’s FSIS) has published its annual report on FSIS Foodborne Illness Outbreak Investigations for Fiscal Year 2021 (FY 2021). The report summarizes the outbreaks that FSIS investigated from October 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021, and also highlights after-action reviews (AARs) that FSIS conducted and published in FY 2021.

FSIS investigated nine total foodborne illness outbreaks in FY 2021 compared to 16 in FY 2018, 16 in FY 2019, and 12 in FY 2020. FSIS notes that the COVID-19 pandemic may have caused a reduction in foodborne illness reporting which resulted in the decreased number of outbreak investigations that occurred in FY 2021. 

Of the nine outbreaks that FSIS investigated in FY 2021, seven were multi-state outbreaks. The nine outbreaks involved approximately 200 illnesses and 60 hospitalizations. Salmonella was associated with three of the nine outbreaks, and another three outbreaks were linked to Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC). A single outbreak was associated with Listeria monocytogenes. The ninth outbreak involved a suspected case of botulism, but neither botulinum nor Clostridium botulinum were detected in the suspect beef product. 

The Salmonella outbreaks comprised four serotypes—Hadar, Enteritidis, Typhimurium, and Infantis—and were linked to turkey, chicken, and pork products; serotypes Typhimurium and Infantis were associated with the same outbreak. The L. monocytogenes outbreaks were linked to chicken and multiple products. The STEC outbreaks involved serotypes O157:H7 and O145, and beef was the most common food product linked to illnesses caused by STEC in FY 2021. The outbreak investigations that occurred in FY 2021 led to three recalls and two public health alerts. 

In addition to summarizing its foodborne illness outbreak investigation activity in FY 2021, FSIS also highlighted two key AARs in the report. The first AAR was conducted for an outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis that was associated with raw, frozen, breaded, and stuffed chicken products. The AAR’s findings prompted FSIS to bring certain concerns regarding labeling, establishments’ food safety programs, and Salmonella sampling in establishments to the National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspections (NACMPI). Based on consumer activity, FSIS also encourages manufacturers to review FSIS Labeling Policy Guidance for Uncooked, Breaded, and Boneless Poultry Products.

The second AAR was conducted for an outbreak of L. monocytogenes that was associated with ready-to-eat (RTE) chicken. FSIS highlights the importance of whole genome sequencing (WGS) analyses, as WGS provided FSIS investigators with key data in the L. monocytogenes outbreak investigation. FSIS also states that rapid coordination and data sharing between FSIS, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state public health partners, and industry allowed for prompt outbreak response including the collection of exposure information and traceback activities. FSIS encourages manufacturers of RTE products that are exposed to the environment post-lethality to review the FSIS Compliance Guideline for Controlling L. monocytogenes