As the quantity of food imported into the United States continues to rise, it is increasingly important to minimize foodborne illness risks for U.S. consumers. Foods contaminated with pathogens or toxins can result in foodborne illnesses. A recent USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) study examined the number of U.S. import refusals caused by pathogen/toxin contamination and which pathogens accounted for those safety violations.

From 2002 to 2019, 22,460 pathogen/toxin violations were discovered among imported shipments. Salmonella was the most frequently identified agent among imported foods during the period with 80 percent, or 17,922 of total pathogen/toxin violations. Listeria recorded the second largest number of violations at 2,463, accounting for 11 percent of the total. It was followed by histamine with 804 violations (3.6 percent), aflatoxin with 663 violations (3 percent), and bacteria other than Salmonella or Listeria with 455 violations (2 percent). Those five most frequently detected pathogens and toxins accounted for 99.3 percent of the total pathogen/toxin violations from imported foods over the period. The above chart was drawn from the ERS report Examining Pathogen-Based Import Refusals: Trends and Analysis From 2002 to 2019, published December 2021.

USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) was established in 1961. The ERS predecessor agency, USDA’s Bureau of Agricultural Economics (BAE), was set up in 1922, organizing the department’s economic research into one agency and expanding the role of economics in understanding the U.S. food and agriculture system.

ERS exists to provide incisive, objective, and reliable research and analysis for both public and private decision makers, covering issues that have paralleled and complemented the mission of USDA.

Until around the time of ERS’s founding, agricultural research focused on the farm and rural economy. Since then, the mission of ERS—and of USDA—has broadened to reflect the changed environment of the  food and agriculture system, and it now includes research on such topics as food safety and nutrition, natural resources, trade and international agriculture, and the environment.

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