Four pathogens behind millions of illnesses

by Erica Shaffer
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WASHINGTON – Four pathogens are responsible for an estimated 1.9 million cases of foodborne illness in the United States each year, according to a new federal report. The findings resulted from an interagency partnership — which includes the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) — called the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration (IFSAC).

IFSAC's report, “Foodborne Illness Source Attribution Estimates for Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157 (E. coli O157), Listeria monocytogenes (Lm), and Campylobacter using Outbreak Surveillance Data,” briefly summarizes the group's methods and findings, including estimated percentages for Salmonella, E. coli O157, Lm and Campylobacter responsible for causing foodborne illnesses. Some of IFSAC's findings include:

• More than 80 percent of E. coli O157 illnesses were attributed to beef and vegetable row crops such as leafy vegetables.

Salmonella illnesses were broadly attributed across food commodities. Seventy-seven percent of illnesses were related to seeded vegetables (such as tomatoes), eggs, fruits, chicken, beef, sprouts and pork.

• Nearly 75 percent of Campylobacter illnesses were attributed to dairy (66 percent) and chicken (8 percent). IFSAC said most of the dairy outbreaks were related to raw milk or cheese produced from raw milk.

• More than 80 percent of Listeria illnesses were attributed to fruit (50 percent) and dairy (31 percent). Data were sparse for Listeria, IFSAC noted, and the estimate for fruit reflects the impact of an outbreak linked to cantaloupes in 2011 in which 33 people died and 147 individuals were sickened.

IFSAC analyzed data from nearly 1,000 outbreaks that occurred from 1998 to 2012. Foods were divided into 17 categories for the analysis. IFSAC said the pathogens were chosen because of the frequency or severity of the illnesses they cause, and because targeted interventions can significantly reduce them.
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