Do Socioeconomics Factor into Ground Beef Salmonella?

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A new study shows that in local communities with lower socioeconomic status there was a link to an increased risk of ground beef-linked salmonella. with each 10-point percentile increase in county-level socioeconomic status vulnerability rank, the risk of salmonella outbreak increased by 24%. Additionally, the odds of being linked to a ground beef-associated outbreak increased by 21% with each 10-point percentile increase in the overall county-level SVI rank.

The study was published in Journal of Food Protection.

“These findings suggest that community-level factors, such as socioeconomic status, might be markers of risk for ground-beef-associated salmonellosis, and if such a relationship is confirmed in future analyses, it could help identify communities at higher risk for Salmonella infections linked to ground beef, and inform community-based intervention strategies to prevent these infections,” the investigators wrote.

What is SVI?
The Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) was developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (CDC/ATSDR) to support response efforts in public health emergencies. It has evolved and been utilized in research associated with COVID-19 vaccine coverage, hurricane impact assessment, and heat-related health outcomes.

The CDC defines social vulnerability, “as the potential negative effects on communities caused by external stresses on human health.” It is broken into 4 themes including Socioeconomic Status, Household Composition and Disability, Minority Status and Language, and Housing Type and Transportation (see figure 1). Each county receives a percentile rank for each theme, and an overall percentile rank combining all the themes, and those counties with higher percentile rank means that local area has greater social vulnerability.

Figure 1. CDC/ATSDR Social Vulnerability Index themes and variables.

Image credit: Journal of Food Protection

Study Parameters, Other Findings
The investigators conducted a retrospective study examining cases of laboratory-confirmed Salmonella infections linked to ground beef-associated outbreaks between 2012 and 2019. The control cohort were respondents to the 2018–2019 FoodNet Population Survey who reported eating ground beef and reported not having recent gastrointestinal illness.

According to case reports, between 2012–2019, 798 persons were infected with Salmonella and linked to 12 ground beef-associated outbreaks in the US. Within the confirmed cases group, 772 (97%) case-patients reported county of residence, of which 376 (49%) lived within a FoodNet site. For the nearly 40,000 people who completed the 2018–2019 FoodNet Population Survey, 12,205 (31%) reported ground beef consumption. Among these 12,205 respondents, 9,918 (81%) denied acute gastrointestinal illness; 7,295 (74%) of these respondents reported their county of residence. The investigators said there was a total of 376 (22%) cases and 1321 (78%) controls comprised the final analytic data set.

Some interesting other findings from the analysis included:

  • Nearly half of the final salmonella cases, 183 (49%), were in people who lived in California
  • Approximately 50% of FoodNet sites reported less than 5 incidences
  • The age group of 18–34 year olds were most often linked to ground beef-related Salmonella outbreaks.

Final Takeaways
This study demonstrates the vulnerability of the food-supply and warrants follow-up to identify potential correlations of risk to ground beef-related salmonella and socioeconomics.

“Our findings might also reflect systematic differences at the community level in access to and condition of appliances to store and cook ground beef, access to food thermometers, and access to food safety information for both retailers (eg, grocery stores, markets, restaurants) and consumers. However, further research is needed to identify and better understand whether these or other specific factors that may be related to socioeconomic status at both the individual and community levels and ultimately contribute to the risk of salmonellosis from ground beef consumption,” the investigators wrote.

1. Salah Z, Canning M, Rickless D, et al. Comparing Individual and Community-level Characteristics of People with Ground Beef-associated Salmonellosis and Other Ground Beef Eaters: A Case-control Analysis. J Food Prot. 2024;87(7):100303. doi:10.1016/j.jfp.2024.100303

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