ERS Charts of Note

Subscribe to get highlights from our current and past research, Monday through Friday, or see our privacy policy.
See also: Editors' Pick 2018: Best of Charts of Note gallery.

Reset

ICYMI... Foodservice employees are more likely to use a food thermometer at home

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Public health officials recommend using food thermometers when cooking meat, poultry, and seafood to verify that the food is adequately cooked and that disease-causing pathogens, which could be in the food, are destroyed. Using data from the American Time Use Survey’s Eating and Health Module, ERS researchers found that 13.7 percent of at-home meal preparers used a food thermometer when preparing any meals with meat, poultry, or seafood during a typical week in 2014 to 2016. ERS researchers further examined whether at-home meal preparers with occupations related to food preparation were more likely to use a food thermometer. For at-home meal preparers who worked in the leisure and hospitality industry, 17.6 percent used food thermometers at home. Just over 20 percent of those who worked in the accommodation and foodservice industry, and 24.2 percent of those who worked in food preparation and serving occupations reported using food thermometers at home. These estimates exceed the national average, suggesting the training that foodservice employees receive for work partially carries over to behavior at home. This chart appears in the article, “Not All Consumers Are Following Food Safety Advice From Health Officials” in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, April 2019. This Chart of Note was originally published May 22, 2019.

STEC outbreaks in romaine lettuce peak in April and October, 1998 to 2018

Monday, December 2, 2019

Leafy greens, including romaine lettuce, are the sixth most commonly consumed type of vegetable in the United States. About three-quarters of U.S. romaine shipments come from two regions, California’s Central Coast and Yuma, Arizona; the rest come from other areas in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. From May to November, about three-quarters of romaine lettuce shipments in the United States come from California’s Central Coast region, while from December to April, about three-quarters come from the Yuma, Arizona region. From 1998 to 2018, foodborne illnesses and outbreaks associated with romaine lettuce occurred most frequently during March, April, September, and October—the time of the season prior to shifts in regional production. In 2017 and 2018 there were three multi-state, multi-national foodborne illness outbreaks of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O157:H7 associated with the consumption of romaine lettuce in the U.S. and Canada. These outbreaks led to a total of 376 illnesses, 158 hospitalizations, and 7 deaths. This chart appears in “Special Article: Seasonality in Romaine Outbreaks and Regional Shipments” in the Vegetables and Pulses Outlook newsletter, released in May 2019.

Annual number of foodborne illnesses associated with outbreaks in tomatoes has generally decreased since their high in 2001

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

About 48 million episodes of foodborne illness and 3,000 deaths occur per year in the United States. The most common foodborne pathogens cause an estimated annual burden of $14 billion to $36 billion. Produce has been implicated in 46 percent of foodborne illness outbreaks. Tomatoes have been the source of a number of foodborne illness outbreaks since 1998, but the annual number of foodborne illnesses associated with outbreaks in tomatoes has generally decreased since their high of nearly 900 in 2001. Ten outbreaks have caused more than 100 illnesses, while 2 were associated with deaths of individuals. In 2005 and 2006, multistate outbreaks of salmonella in tomatoes sickened 487 individuals. The most prominent recent case, which involved the food chain Chipotle in 2015, sickened 119 individuals with E. coli and hospitalized 17. Although the FDA never identified a single field or source of contamination, Chipotle was reported to have traced the contaminated tomatoes back to a farm in Virginia. In unrelated cases, contamination was traced back to irrigation pond water on Virginia farms; animal waste, farm surfaces, and ditch water on a Florida farm; and unknown sources on three farms in Ohio. This chart appears in the ERS report, “U.S. Produce Growers' Decisionmaking Under Evolving Food Safety Standards,” released in June 2019.

Produce growers’ adoption of third-party food safety audits varies by primary marketing channel

Monday, June 24, 2019

Produce growers reported that retail and foodservice buyer requirements—most common in fresh and fresh-cut produce marketing channels (for example, heads of lettuce versus bagged salads)—have largely driven the adoption of food-safety practices. Commercial buyers increasingly require third-party food-safety audits in order to reduce risk of foodborne illnesses. According to a 2015–16 USDA survey, adoption of third-party audits varied by growers’ primary marketing channels (see chart note for definitions). Among growers who reported having a primary marketing channel, those who sold mainly to fresh markets had the highest rate (39 percent). However, with an audit rate of over 50 percent, growers who sold to “mixed” (multiple) marketing channels—each with possibly different food-safety requirements—exceeded the audit rate for growers who belonged to any primary-marketing-channel category. In the survey sample, 17 percent of produce growers sell primarily “direct to consumers,” 29 percent to processors, 2 percent to the fresh-cut market, 26 percent to the fresh market, and 26 percent to mixed markets. This chart appears in the ERS report, U.S. Produce Growers' Decisionmaking Under Evolving Food Safety Standards, released in June 2019.

Foodservice employees are more likely to use a food thermometer at home

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Public health officials recommend using food thermometers when cooking meat, poultry, and seafood to verify that the food is adequately cooked and that disease-causing pathogens, which could be in the food, are destroyed. Using data from the American Time Use Survey’s Eating and Health Module, ERS researchers found that 13.7 percent of at-home meal preparers used a food thermometer when preparing any meals with meat, poultry, or seafood during a typical week in 2014 to 2016. ERS researchers further examined whether at-home meal preparers with occupations related to food preparation were more likely to use a food thermometer. For at-home meal preparers who worked in the leisure and hospitality industry, 17.6 percent used food thermometers at home. Just over 20 percent of those who worked in the accommodation and foodservice industry, and 24.2 percent of those who worked in food preparation and serving occupations reported using food thermometers at home. These estimates exceed the national average, suggesting the training that foodservice employees receive for work partially carries over to behavior at home. This chart appears in the article, “Not All Consumers Are Following Food Safety Advice From Health Officials” in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, April 2019.

From 2014 to 2016, over one-third of at-home meal preparers who used raw milk lived with one or more children

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

While pasteurization is required for interstate shipments of all milk and milk products intended for human consumption, many States allow intrastate shipments of raw (unpasteurized) milk from cows, sheep, or goats for human consumption. Raw milk can carry harmful bacteria and pose serious health risks, particularly for people with weakened immune systems, older adults, pregnant women, and children. From 2014 to 2016, an estimated 2.0 percent of at-home meal preparers, or 3.2 million people, consumed or served raw milk on a weekly basis. Many of these at-home meal preparers lived with one or more people in a high-risk group. Among at-home meal preparers who consumed or served raw milk, 80.2 percent lived with at least one other person, 43.9 percent were married, and 35.6 percent had at least one child under the age of 18 residing in the household. In addition, 27.6 percent had at least one person age 62 or older in the household. A version of this chart appears in the January 2019 ERS report, Consumer Food Safety Practices: Raw Milk Consumption and Food Thermometer Use. This topic is also discussed in the article, “Not All Consumers Are Following Food Safety Advice From Health Officials” in the April 2019 edition of Amber Waves.

Meal-preparer characteristics differ between food thermometer users and nonusers

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Improperly cooked meat can carry harmful bacteria and pose serious health risks, particularly for people with weakened immune systems, older adults, and children. Food thermometers are recommended when preparing raw meat to verify that food is adequately cooked and pathogens are destroyed. Using data from the American Time Use Survey’s Eating and Health Module, ERS researchers found that 14 percent of at-home meal preparers used a food thermometer during a typical week in 2014 to 2016. Households that used food thermometers were more likely to have an annual household income of $50,000 or more. Based on monthly pretax earnings and adjusting for household size, they were more likely to be above 185 percent of the Federal poverty line. At-home meal preparers who used a food thermometer were also more likely to rate their physical health as excellent, participate in physical activities or exercise for fitness in a given week, be married, and have at least one child in the household. A version of this chart appears in the ERS report Consumer Food Safety Practices: Raw Milk Consumption and Food Thermometer Use, January 2019.

In 2016, raw milk could be legally purchased in 38 States

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Public health authorities unequivocally advise consumers to avoid consuming raw (unpasteurized) milk. Raw milk can carry harmful bacteria and can pose serious health risks, particularly for people with weakened immune systems, older adults, pregnant women, and children. Pasteurizing milk—heating it for a specified period of time—kills dangerous bacteria and pathogens. Federal law requires pasteurization for interstate shipments of all milk and milk products intended for direct human consumption. However, States can allow intrastate shipments, and the number of States in which intrastate sale of raw milk from cows, sheep, or goats for human consumption is legal has been increasing. In 2016, 38 States allowed some form of intrastate sales of raw milk, 13 States allowed sales in retail stores, and 25 States allowed onfarm sales or cow-share agreements where a consumer can purchase a share of a cow’s milk production. Ten years earlier, intrastate sales in various forms were legal in 25 States. A version of this chart appears in the ERS report, Consumer Food Safety Practices: Raw Milk Consumption and Food Thermometer Use, released on January 29, 2019.

Commodities primarily sourced domestically face the lowest compliance costs for the Produce Rule

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 gave the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) new and comprehensive authority to issue rules for the improvement of food safety, including the Produce Rule, which regulates fresh fruit and vegetables that are minimally processed and frequently consumed raw. Using detailed data on the distribution of farm sizes, ERS researchers calculated the cost of compliance for the Produce Rule across commodities and regions. Among produce raised primarily domestically, celery, and broccoli face the lowest compliance costs, representing less than 0.5 percent of total sales revenue, while snap beans and pears face compliance costs nearing 3.0 percent. Although compliance costs can be larger still for certain tropical and primarily imported fruit (bananas and avocadoes), this finding likely reflects the very small scale of production on U.S. farms from which data for these calculations are collected. This chart appears in the August 2018 Amber Waves finding, “Food Safety Costs for Farms Vary Across Commodities Due to Differences in Farm Size.”

Before the Produce Rule’s implementation, many growers who would be covered by the rule already tested water for microbial contamination

Friday, August 31, 2018

Finalized in 2015, the Food Safety Modernization Act’s (FSMA) Produce Rule (PR) sets specific disease-preventive requirements for produce that is consumed raw in the United States. (Compliance deadlines for the PR’s water requirements are unofficially proposed through 2024.) The two main categories of water the PR covers are (1) preharvest, untreated ground or surface water that contacts the plants’ edible portions and (2) harvest or postharvest, untreated groundwater in circumstances where it is reasonably likely that contaminants would be transferred to the produce, such as washing produce or washing food contact surfaces. According to the survey results, the majority of growers who would be covered under the PR already tested the untreated ground and untreated surface water they used in the field, and an even larger share of growers covered by the PR tested the untreated groundwater they used in harvest and postharvest activities. This chart appears in “Before Implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act’s Produce Rule: A Survey of U.S. Produce Growers,” released in August 2018.

Produce growers who conducted third-party food safety audits spent 2 to 10 times more on food safety than those without audits

Monday, August 20, 2018

In an effort to understand produce grower food safety practices before the phased implementation (beginning in 2018) of the Food Safety Modernization Act’s Produce Rule (PR), ERS and USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service teamed to conduct the 2015/16 Produce Grower Food Safety Practices Survey. Survey results provide a general idea of how much growers spent (or did not spend) on certain food safety practices, including third-party audits. (These should not be interpreted as the cost of compliance with the PR or a complete measure of costs for food safety practices.) Average measured costs for growers with third-party food safety audits ranged from about $2,000 annually for growers with $25,000 to less than $500,000 in produce sales to about $40,000 annually for growers with $5 million or more in produce sales. Growers who did not conduct third-party audits ranged from an average of $1,200 for the lowest sales category to $3,600 per year for the highest sales category, suggesting that those who did conduct audits spent 2 to 10 times more than those who did not. This chart appears in the August 2018 Amber Waves article, “New Survey Results Highlight Variation in Food Safety Practices Prior to the Produce Rule.

Greater shares of larger produce growers used food safety practices in 2015-16

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Produce Rule (PR) of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) requires specific disease-preventive practices be used by U.S. growers of produce that is consumed raw. Finalized in 2015, the rule began to take effect this year. An ERS survey covering 2015 through 2016 found that a significant share of growers who would be covered by the PR upon implementation had already established key food safety practices such as hiring a dedicated food safety person or reviewing current practices through an outside, or third-party, food safety auditor. The PR does not require third-party food safety audits or written food safety plans, but these activities help serve as an indicator for PR readiness. Growers who were not covered by the PR or had a qualifying exemption had the lowest shares with third-party audits, and those groups responded similarly when asked if they kept a written food safety plan. For growers covered by the PR, responses were correlated with annual produce sales levels. Those selling over $5 million per year had the largest share already using each food safety practice, including employing a food safety person and conducting daily cleaning. This chart appears in “Before Implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act’s Produce Rule: A Survey of U.S. Produce Growers,” released in August 2018.

Pathogen contamination and undeclared allergens are leading reasons for food recalls

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Both USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversee food product recalls—the removal of risky food products from the U.S. marketplace. From 2004 to 2013, there were 4,900 food recall events in the United States involving a wide variety of foods. Most of these recalls were initiated because of possible pathogen contamination (41 percent) and undeclared allergens (27 percent). Pathogen contamination is the discovery of disease-causing microorganisms, such as Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes, in a food product. Undeclared allergens refers to the failure to declare on a food label one of eight major allergens: wheat, eggs, peanuts, milk, tree nuts (e.g., almonds, pecans, and walnuts), soybeans, fish, and crustacean shellfish. While the number of recalls due to pathogen contamination did not increase significantly from 2004 to 2013, the number of undeclared allergen recalls nearly doubled. The passage of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (effective January 1, 2006) likely played a major role in the increase in the number of undeclared allergen recalls. The statistics for this chart are drawn from the April 2018 ERS report, Trends in Food Recalls: 2004-13.

Food safety recalls occur for a variety of foods

Friday, June 1, 2018

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are the primary Federal agencies responsible for overseeing the safety of food sold in the United States. Both agencies engage in preventive actions to protect consumers from unsafe foods, including overseeing food product recall events—the removal of risky food products from the U.S. marketplace. A recent ERS study used a unique data set to identify trends and patterns in recall events during 2004-13—a period that included several highly publicized foodborne illness outbreaks and the enactment of two major food safety laws. From 2004 to 2013, there were 4,900 food recall events in the United States involving a wide variety of foods. A recall is announced to the public by a manufacturer or distributor and may include multiple recalled items. The majority of recalls were initiated because of possible pathogen contamination and undeclared allergens. Meat poultry and seafood accounted for the highest number of recalls (773), followed by prepared foods and meals, including soups (685) and nut and seed products (532). Together, these three categories accounted for 41 percent of all recall events between 2004 and 2013. The statistics for this chart are drawn from the April 2018 ERS report, Trends in Food Recalls: 2004-13.

Salmonella and Toxoplasma gondii are the costliest U.S. foodborne pathogens

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Estimates of the economic cost of foodborne illness play an important role in guiding food safety policy. They are used by the Federal Government in cost-benefit analysis of regulatory actions. Private and public decision makers use these cost estimates to compare the impact of illnesses that vary in number and severity. ERS researchers estimate that 15 major foodborne pathogens cost the U.S. economy $15.5 billion per year in medical care, lost time from work, and losses due to premature death. A foodborne pathogen’s economic burden is determined by both the number and severity of illnesses it causes. Salmonella and Toxoplasma gondii rank highest in cost because they cause the highest number of deaths each year. Norovirus ranks high because it sickens more people each year than the other pathogens, even though the symptoms of norovirus illness are generally mild and rarely require hospitalization. Listeria monocytogenes causes fewer illnesses than many other major foodborne pathogens, but it has serious outcomes for newborns whose mothers were sickened while pregnant. The statistics for this chart are from the ERS data product, Cost Estimates of Foodborne Illnesses.

Labor costs dominate food safety expenses for California leafy greens producers

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement, commonly known as the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA), went into effect in 2007, the first of a new generation of commodity-specific food safety programs to address microbial contamination in the produce industry (LGMA was developed privately by the industry, but participating firms work with USDA and the California Department of Food and Agriculture to verify compliance.) If firms decide to participate in the voluntary LGMA, they must implement a minimum standard of field-level food safety practices; compliance is enforced by mandatory third-party audits. A recent ERS report examined the 2012 food safety practices and costs of seven large LGMA participants. The case study looked at total food safety costs for firms in the LGMA, not just the costs of LGMA practices. The study found that labor costs are the primary food safety expense for LGMA participating firms. Of the five food safety costs measured in this case study, food safety staff accounted for 38 percent of the costs and foremen food safety time accounted for an additional 32 percent. While these cost shares are large, they do not account for the food safety time of other people in the firm with smaller food safety roles. This chart appears in the ERS Amber Waves article, "The California Leafy Greens Industry Provides an Example of an Established Food Safety System," released in June 2017.

Improved performance on pathogen tests by chicken plants correlated with regulatory actions

Friday, June 2, 2017

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) tests chicken and turkey carcasses as well as ground meats and poultry and chicken parts for non-typhoidal Salmonella in meat and poultry plants. Until 2008, plant performance on these tests was not disclosed to the public. In 2006, FSIS enacted an easy-to-understand metric for rating a chicken plant’s performance on Salmonella tests, and from 2008 to 2010, disclosed the identities of plants with mediocre or poor performance on the agency’s Web site. In 2011, FSIS established a stricter performance standard for chicken plants. A recent ERS report explored the impact of FSIS’s efforts to provide better and more information on chicken plants’ performance on Salmonella tests and the impact of the 2011 revision to the Salmonella performance standard for chicken. The researchers accounted for plant-level factors, such as the size and age of the plant, to isolate the effect of the policy changes on Salmonella levels. During 2006-14, the share of samples of broilers testing positive for Salmonella dropped from about 14 to 2 percent. ERS analysis found that 75 percent of the decline correlated with the timing of FSIS’s disclosure policy and the 2011 standard. This chart appears in the ERS report, Public Disclosure of Tests for Salmonella: The Effects on Food Safety Performance in Chicken Slaughter Establishments, and the Amber Waves article, "Regulation, Market Signals, and the Provision of Food Safety in Meat and Poultry," released on May 26, 2017.

Meat thermometer usage higher in households with children

Friday, August 5, 2016

The 2014 ERS Eating & Health Module of the American Time Use Survey features new questions about food safety practices when preparing meals. This is the first nationally-representative, large scale Federal survey to ask Americans about their use of meat thermometers when preparing meat, poultry, or seafood. Survey respondents who said that they are the usual meal preparers or those who split the task with other household members were asked whether they had prepared any meals with meat, poultry, or seafood in the last week. Eighty-nine percent of the usual/split meal preparers prepared some form of meat. Of those, 12.9 percent used a meat thermometer in preparing meals. Meal preparers in households with children had a higher rate of meat thermometer usage (15.2 percent) than in households without children (11.7 percent). The shares of men and women meal preparers who used a meat thermometer—14.2 and 12.2 percent, respectively—were not statistically different from each other. The data for this chart are from the ERS report, Americans’ Eating Patterns and Time Spent on Food: The 2014 Eating & Health Module Data, released on July 28, 2016.

Adulteration violations in imported foods increased the most for spices, flavors, salts, and seafood

Friday, July 8, 2016

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the safety of most food sold in the United States. Part of this oversight includes inspecting imported foods at the border or port of entry for evidence of adulteration or misbranding. FDA uses risk-based criteria to determine which shipments are inspected, rather than a random sample. A recent ERS study examined patterns in FDA import refusals over 2005-2013 and compared results with an earlier study of data from 1998-2004. Compared with the earlier period, spices, flavors, and salts, as well as fishery and seafood products, had the largest increases in the number of violations per year for adulteration—problems relating to safety issues, packaging integrity, or sanitation. In fishery and seafood products, the most common adulteration violations were for filth (visually apparent non-food material), the presence of Salmonella bacteria, and veterinary drug residues. In spices, flavors, and salts, the most common violation was for Salmonella. This chart is from “Patterns in FDA Imported Food Refusals Highlight Most Frequently Detected Problems” in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, March 2016.

Six foodborne pathogens rank high on per case costs and/or total economic burden

Monday, June 13, 2016

Both the total economic burden of a disease and the severity of individual cases are important indicators of how serious the disease is. ERS estimates the aggregate economic burden of 15 major foodborne illnesses at over $15 billion per year. But these 15 illnesses—and the pathogens that cause them—have very different total and per case impacts. For example, Salmonella’s total annual economic burden ($3.7 billion) is over 10 times Vibrio vulnificus’s ($320 million). But the per case burden of Vibrio vulnificus ($3.3 million) is almost 1,000 times that of a Salmonella case ($3,568). High per case burdens are the result of severe health outcomes, such as birth defects, renal failure, and death. Total annual economic burden reflects per case costs and how many people are sickened by the pathogens each year. Toxoplasma gondii ranks second behind Salmonella in terms of total economic burden and has a per case cost of $38,114. Listeria ranks high on both a per case basis ($1.8 million) and a total annual burden basis ($2.8 billion). Like Salmonella, Norovirus and Campylobacter also stand out as having high total impacts, though relatively lower per case costs. The statistics for this table are from ERS’s Cost Estimates of Foodborne Illnesses data product, March 2016.

Charts of Note header image for left nav