There were 7,431 food-related outbreaks between 1973 and 1987. Seafood accounted for 11.1% of these, or 827 outbreaks and 12,766 illnesses, according to the CDC.
Half of all the episodes, however, have undetermined causes. As a result, the figure for seafood contaminations, as well as for those cases linked to any other individual food, can be doubled as a way of accounting for the percentage of unknown causes, Ostroff said.
"The proportion of seafood-related illnesses are higher than any particular meat product," he said.
However, Ostroff disagreed with some consumer groups who have claimed that the contamination threat from seafood--in general--is a greater health risk to consumers than is meat or poultry.
Botulism Threat--Improper storage conditions also played an important role in another food poisoning recently reported by the FDA.
The agency linked three botulism cases in the New York City area with consumption of a commercial garlic-and-oil mix that was kept at room temperature despite a label stating "Keep Refrigerated."
A preliminary investigation by health officials implicated a product no longer manufactured: Chopped Garlic in Extra Virgin Olive Oil made by Colavita Pasta & Oil Co. The Newark, N.J.,-based firm discontinued the item a year ago but announced a recall of the product nevertheless.
The victims, each of whom required hospitalization, apparently used the oil to prepare garlic bread.
As a result of this and other recent cases, the FDA has alerted commercial producers of similar products to ensure that labels and bulk packaging materials prominently state, "Requires Refrigeration for Safety" or "Refrigerate Both Before and After Opening."
FDA researchers have found that oils present an ideal environment for the growth of \o7 botulinum \f7 spores.
\o7 "Clostridium botulinum \f7 bacteria are widespread . . . and may be found on various produce, including garlic, but their spores are harmless when there is oxygen in the environment," according to the FDA's account of the episode. "However, the spores can produce a deadly toxin when in an oxygen-free, low-acid environment."
A similar contamination incident occurred in 1985, the FDA reported, when 37 people suffered from botulism after eating a dish that included a commercial chopped garlic in soybean oil in a Vancouver, British Columbia, restaurant.
As a result of the recent problems with garlic in oil, the agency is warning that any such commercial or homemade mixes can pose serious health risks if left at room temperature.