(UPDATED COVERAGE, Jan. 12) There were 16 significant or unusual multistate outbreaks of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. in 2011, with five of them involving fresh produce, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual year in review.

Fresh produce involved was: romaine lettuce, cantaloupes (two outbreaks), whole papayas and alfalfa/spicy sprouts. Two outbreaks were related to nuts. One involvined Turkish pine nuts, the other was linked to hazelnuts.

“Our list of multistate foodborne outbreaks on the list for 2011 is not comprehensive — it just lists certain ones that may be unusual in terms of size, pathogen, etc., and whether we took a leading role in the outbreak,” leader of CDC’s outbreak response team Casey Barton Behravesh said Jan. 12.

Based on the lists, 2011 was the most active year in recent history for foodborne illness outbreaks that crossed statelines. In 2010 there were 12, four of them involving fresh produce: alfalfa sprouts (two outbreaks) and shredded romaine lettuce. The other case involved an unnamed Mexican fast food restaurant chain that served a variety of fresh produce.

The CDC’s list does not include statistics on outbreaks that were contained to a single state. Neither does it reflect fresh produce recalls linked to positive test results, but not to any confirmed illnesses.

The multistate outbreak list for 2011 included:

  •     Whole fresh papayas imported from Mexico by Agromod Produce Inc. of McAllen, Texas, were linked to 106 people infected with Salmonella Agona. The illnesses spanned 25 states and were reported between Jan. 1 and Aug. 25.
  •     Whole fresh cantaloupes from a single farm in Guatemala and sold by Del Monte in the U.S. were linked to 20 people in 10 states with confirmed cases of Salmonella Panama. Illnesses were reported beginning Feb. 5. As of April 22, no new illnesses were confirmed.
  •     Alfalfa and spicy sprouts produced by Evergreen Fresh Sprouts LLC, Moyie Springs, Idaho, were linked to 25 confirmed cases of Salmonella Enteritidis in five states as of July 6. The illnesses were reported from April 12 to July 5.
  •     Whole fresh cantaloupes from Jensen Farms, Granada, Colo., were linked to 146 people in 28 states infected with any of four outbreak-associated strains of listeria. As of Dec. 8, 30 people had died. In addition, one woman who was pregnant at the time of illness had a miscarriage. CDC reports about 800 laboratory-confirmed cases of listeria are usually logged annually in the U.S.
  •     Fresh-cut romaine lettuce — distributed by Vaughan Foods Inc. of Moore, Okla., to Schnucks Supermarkets in the St. Louis area, and other locations. As of Nov. 30, 60 people infected with E. coli O157:H7 had been confirmed in 10 states. Neither the CDC nor other federal agencies revealed what farm grew the lettuce because by the time investigators arrived operations had ceased for the season.