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CDC Report Shows Some Foodborne Illness Rates Rising

USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service standards working to decrease incidence of salmonella, campylobacter

Published on: Apr 22, 2013

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week issued an update on foodborne illnesses, finding that 2012 rates of infections from two germs spread through food have increased, while most others have not increased during the same period.

The data are part of the CDC's Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) report. FoodNet, a collaboration among CDC, ten state health departments, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, tracks whether selected infections are increasing or decreasing.

USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service standards working to decrease incidence of salmonella, campylobacter
USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service standards working to decrease incidence of salmonella, campylobacter

Overall in 2012, FoodNet's 10 sites reported 19,531 illnesses, 4,563 hospitalizations and 68 deaths from nine germs commonly spread through foods.

Infections from campylobacter – which is linked to many foods, including poultry, raw milk and produce – has risen 14% in 2012 compared to 2006-2008, at the highest level since 2000.

Vibrio infections as a whole were up 43% when compared with the rates observed in 2006-2008. Vibrio vulnificus, the most severe strain, has not increased.

Despite the increases, the CDC's Director Tom Frieden, M.D., said the U.S. food supply remains the "safest in the world."

"However, some foodborne diseases continue to pose a challenge," Frieden said. "We have the ability, through investments in emerging technologies, to identify outbreaks even more quickly and implement interventions even faster to protect people from the dangers posed by contaminated food."

While the CDC has made progress in reducing E. coli 0157, rates for the infection were up in 2012. Incidence of STEC O157 infection had decreased to 0.95 per 100,000 population in 2010, but last year went back up to 1.12 per 100,000 population.

Campylobacter and salmonella, both pathogens that are commonly associated with foodborne illness, have been the target of FSIS's 2011 revised industry performance standards to aid in reduction of the pathogens in chickens and turkeys.

"The performance standards FSIS implemented are an important consumer protection measure," said USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen, M.D. "These standards are at the core of USDA's mission. While tough, they are achievable and a critical tool in our effort to drive down illnesses from these pathogens in Americans each year."

FDA is working closely with its federal and state partners to better understand the root causes of the increase in Vibrio.  In addition, the agency is implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act.

"New prevention-based rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act will help to reduce foodborne illness in general and new enforcement authorities allow us to take action to keep harmful foods out of the marketplace," said Michael Taylor, Deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at FDA.

Earlier this year, the a CDC study found that 46% of food illnesses to can be attributed to produce while more food-related deaths were attributed to poultry than to any other commodity. The CDC reminds consumers to wash and cook food thoroughly.