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Report Shows Mixed Progress in Reducing Foodborne Infections

Illnesses from some pathogens fell, but overall infections remain the same

Rates of infection from some foodborne pathogens decreased in 2014, but the overall incidence of foodborne illness changed little because of rising rates of infection from other pathogens, according to data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A serious form of Escherichia coli and one of the more common Salmonella serotypes decreased compared with the baseline period of 2006–2008, but other less common types of Salmonella increased. Campylobacter and Vibrio rose again in 2014, continuing an increase observed during recent years. The CDC report summarizes the rates of infection per 100,000 population and tracks illness trends for key foodborne illnesses.

Infection with Shiga-toxin producing E. coli O157, which can sometimes lead to kidney failure, decreased 32% when compared with 2006–2008 and 19% when compared with the most recent three years. These infections are often linked to consumption of undercooked ground beef and raw leafy vegetables. Salmonella Typhimurium, which has been linked to poultry, beef, and other foods, was 27% lower than it was in 2006–2008, continuing a downward trend begun in the mid-1980s. Two other less common types of Salmonella, Javiana and Infantis, more than doubled for reasons that are unclear. Salmonella Javiana is concentrated in the southeastern United States, but has been spreading within the Southeast and to other areas of the country.

When all Salmonella serotypes are combined, there was no change in 2014. Campylobacter increased 13% and Vibrio increased 52% compared with 2006–2008. Yersinia has declined enough to meet the Healthy People 2020 goal.

The data are from FoodNet, CDC's active surveillance system that tracks nine common foodborne pathogens in 10 states and monitors trends in foodborne illness in about 15% of the U.S. population. The report compares the 2014 frequency of infection with the frequency in the baseline period 2006–2008 and in the three most recent years. Overall in 2014, FoodNet logged just over 19,000 infections, about 4,400 hospitalizations, and 71 deaths from the nine foodborne germs it tracks. Salmonella and Campylobacter were by far the most common — accounting for about 14,000 of the 19,000 infections reported.

"We're cautiously optimistic that changes in food safety practice are having an impact in decreasing E. coli and we know that without all the food safety work to fight Salmonella that more people would be getting sick with Salmonella than we are seeing now," said Robert Tauxe, MD, Deputy Director of CDC's Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases. "The increasing use of whole genome sequencing to track foodborne illness cases will also help; however, much more needs to be done to protect people from foodborne illness."

The recent decline in the incidence of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O157 follows several years of increasing scrutiny for beef products. Since 1994, the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken STEC O157:H7 extremely seriously and made a number of changes in its regulatory oversight of the beef industry to protect public health.

Under the provisions of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is planning to publish major new regulations in 2015. The regulations are geared toward ensuring produce safety, implementing preventive controls on processed foods, and improving the safety of imported foods.

Source: CDC; May 15, 2015.

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