Food safety efforts produce mixed results

by Keith Nunes
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ATLANTA — A report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the number of severe infections associated with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157 (STEC O157) declined significantly in 2009, reaching the lowest level since 2004. There was little or no progress made for other pathogens such as Camploybacter, Listeria and Salmonella, according to the report published in the C.D.C.’s April 16 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly.

Titled “Preliminary FoodNet data on the incidence of infection with pathogens transmitted commonly through food – 10 states, 2009,” the report’s authors hypothesized that the recent decrease in STEC O157 infections may be due to control efforts initiated in ground beef processing and produce growing practices.

“The interventions begun in the late 1990s were successful in decreasing some of these foodborne diseases, but we haven’t seen much recent progress,” said Chris Braden, acting director of the C.D.C.’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases. “To make additional strides against these diseases and ultimately better protect the American people from foodborne illness, C.D.C., our federal and state partners, and the food industry will need to try new strategies.”

Among the four pathogens tracked in FoodNet that have national incidence goals, Salmonella is furthest from meeting the goal. One possible reason for the slow progress in reducing the incidence of Salmonella is that it is spread through a variety of foods, and also through non-foodborne routes. Salmonella may be spread by poultry, meat, eggs, produce and processed foods, as well as by contact with animals such as baby chicks, small turtles, reptiles and frogs.

For most of the infections, the rate was highest in children under the age of 4 years. People over 50 years old had the highest rates of hospitalizations and deaths from most foodborne illnesses, emphasizing the need for those over 50 to get diagnosed and get treatment quickly after becoming ill.

The data were collected through the C.D.C.’s Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, also known as FoodNet. FoodNet conducts active surveillance for nine pathogens commonly transmitted through food, and leads studies designed to help health officials better understand how foodborne diseases are impacting Americans. Annual data are compared with data from the previous three years and with data from the first years of surveillance (1996-1998) to analyze trends and measure progress.

The full report may be viewed by visiting

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