American's exposure to ethnic foods has expanded, while little information is available about the safety of these foods. This study examined CDC foodborne illness data (1990 to 2000) for ethnic foods to determine food safety trends. Total outbreaks associated with ethnic foods rose from 3% to 11%, whereas total number of cases showed no specific trend. Because most outbreaks reported were for Mexican, Italian, or Asian foods, this paper will focus on these three categories. The highest numbers of outbreaks occurred in restaurants (43%), private homes (21%), schools (7%), and others (29%), and the top five states were Florida (n=136), California (n=74), New York (n=42), Maryland (n=40), and Michigan (n=37). The etiologies of ethnic food outbreaks were primarily unknown (61%), then to Salmonella spp. (18%), Clostridium spp. (6%), Bacillus spp. (4%), Staphylococcus spp. (4%), and all others (7%). Based on known etiology, each ethnic category had its own profile of microorganisms and characteristic foods. Current food manager certification may not adequately cover specific details essential for safe ethnic food preparation. The findings should bring awareness to food safety professionals of unique issues and risks related to ethnic foods.
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