Good news, bad news on the foodborne illness front

by Erica Shaffer
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Salmonella bacteria
CDC reports progress in reducing some illnesses caused by E. coli O157 and some Salmonella serotypes.

ATLANTA – Rates of infection from E. coli O157 and Salmonella Typhimurium declined in 2014, while infections caused by two less common Salmonella serotypes more than doubled, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

Data for the report were collected from the CDC’s FoodNet surveillance system which tracks nine common foodborne pathogens in 10 states and monitors trends in foodborne illness in roughly 15 percent of the US population. The report compares the 2014 frequency of infection with the frequency in the baseline period of 2006-2008 and in the last three.

CDC’s report states that infection with Shiga-toxin producing E. coli O157, dropped 32 percent when compared with the baseline period of 2006-2008. Compared with the last three years, E. coli O157 infections declined 19 percent. E. coli infections can lead to kidney failure. Cases often are linked to consumption of undercooked ground beef and raw leafy vegetables, CDC noted.

The agency also reported that infections caused by Salmonella Typhimurium retreated 27 percent compared with 2006-2008, continuing a downward trend begun in the mid-1980s. Salmonella Typhimurium has been linked to beef, poultry and other foods, CDC said.

But infections caused by two less-common Salmonella serotypes more than doubled last year, according to CDC. Salmonella Javiana is concentrated in the southeastern United States, the agency said, but the pathogen spreading within the Southeast and to other areas of the country. Salmonella Infantis infections also doubled. The rate of infections caused by all Salmonella serotypes was unchanged in 2014, CDC reported.

“We are encouraged by the reduction of STEC O157:H7 illnesses, which reflects our science-based approach to beef inspection, and we look forward to seeing further reductions in Salmonella and Campylobacter infections as our improved standards for poultry take effect later this year,” Al Almanza, Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety at USDA, said in a statement. “Data sources like FoodNet allow us to be strategic in developing our food safety policies, and we will do everything within our power to keep reducing cases of foodborne illness from all meat and poultry products.”

Campylobacter infections climbed 13 percent, while Vibrio increased 52 percent compared with the baseline period of 2006-2008. CDC said Yersinia infections have declined enough to meet the Healthy People 2020 goal.

For the year, FoodNet regarded about 19,000 infections, about 4,400 hospitalizations and 71 deaths from the nine foodborne germs tracked by the system, CDC concluded. Salmonella and Campylobacter infections were by far the most common — accounting for approximately 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,” Robert Tauxe, MD, deputy director of CDC’s Division of Foodborne Waterborne and Environmental Diseases, said in a statement. “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.”

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