According to epidemiologists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), speed is essential to hone in on sources of food contamination and help save lives. A new study examines the 2008 salmonella outbreak caused by Mexican peppers that was first linked to U.S. tomatoes.

Epidemiologists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, say that improving traceability and an understanding of how foods become contaminated on farms and the continued exploration of alternative hypotheses during an outbreak are necessary to reduce the impact of occurrences in the future.

The Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak in 2008 that was linked to jalapeño and Serrano peppers caused about 1,500 illnesses nationwide and two deaths, according to CDC figures.

Study authors wrote that “improvements in product-tracing systems and the ability of those systems to work together are needed for quicker tracing of implicated products through the supply chain in order to maximize public health protection and minimize the economic burden to industry.”

In an early implication of raw tomatoes in the outbreak, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) initially advised consumers not to eat tomatoes, resulting in a devastating effect on the tomato industry. About a month later, an investigation led to the discovery of salmonella in Mexican peppers, but by that time, the tomato industry had lost an estimated $100 million.

The CDC estimates that 48 million Americans become ill as a result of foodborne pathogens each year, while 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.

Source:New England Journal of Medicine,