Here’s the good news: The overall incidence of reported illnesses linked to one of six of the most common foodborne pathogens dropped by 23% between 1996-1998 and 2010, according to a CDC report.
Not everything is down. Salmonella enterica, commonly traced to undercooked chicken and eggs, caused 44% more illnesses in 2010 than in the late 1990s.
The report, one of the most in-depth analyses of foodborne illness outbreaks published to date, included data from the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network on illnesses caused by Campylobacter, Listeria, Salmonella, Shiga-toxin producing E. coli O157, Yersinia, and Vibrio. (Not included were other varieties of E. coli, such as the “Big Six” strains being targeted by the USDA in beef, or norovirus, which, as its name indicates, is a virus and not a bacterium.)
“This report is further evidence that the food industry, in all segments, has made tremendous efforts over the past 10-15 years to implement programs like HACCP [hazard analysis and critical control points] and other initiatives to reduce foodborne illness,” said Mindy Brashears, PhD, professor of food safety and food microbiology and director of the International Center for Food Industry Excellence at Texas Tech University.
Dr. Brashears pointed out that some of the decline may have resulted from changes in how cases were tabulated. Illnesses contracted overseas and cases in which vomiting and diarrhea were accompanied by sore throat and fever were both excluded from this report but were included in the last such report. “Those illnesses, of course, should be excluded; it makes the report more accurate. But some, although certainly not all or even most, of the 23% decline in illnesses could be due to reclassification of some cases.”
But not everything is down. Salmonella enterica, commonly traced to undercooked chicken and eggs, caused 44% more illnesses in 2010 than in the late 1990s, spiking particularly in very young children (under age 4) and adults older than 60.
“This report underscores [the] need to keep working on Salmonella,” said Dr. Brashears. “It causes the most deaths and the most illnesses overall of any foodborne bacterium, and it’s not just a foodborne pathogen. We can get it in the environment. We need to put real focus on this particular pathogen to make a significant change in this statistic.”