Little Progress in Reducing Foodborne Illness, According to New Data from CDC
Washington, D.C. (Tuesday, April 17, 2014)—The annual report on the incidence of foodborne illness in the United States, released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows that there has been little progress in reducing foodborne illness in recent years. Salmonella and Campylobacter continue to cause the most foodborne illness in the U.S. and progress in reducing illnesses from E. coli O157:H7 has stalled.
Compared to a baseline period of 2010-2012, the preliminary data from 2013 show no significant change in illnesses from most pathogens, including E. coli O157:H7 and other shiga-toxin producing strains of E. coli (non-O157 STECs), Listeria and Campylobacter. The data does show a small but important decrease in Salmonella illnesses when compared to 2010-2012.
“For most pathogens, we haven’t really been able to move the needle in recent years,” said Chris Waldrop, Director of the Food Policy Institute at Consumer Federation of America. “The decrease in Salmonella illnesses is positive, but it’s too early to tell if that will be sustained.”
The data continue to show that Salmonella (38% of foodborne illnesses) and Campylobacter (35% of illnesses) remain the leading causes of infection in the U.S., particularly among older adults and children under five years of age. The decrease in Salmonella in 2013 is a positive sign, but it is too early to know whether this represents a new downward trend or whether it is simply a variation in the data. Illnesses from Salmonella still remain too high at 15.19 cases per 100,000 population, well above the 2020 National Health Objective of 11.40 cases/100,000. Further, when compared to 2006-2008, the U.S. saw no significant change in illnesses from Salmonella and an increase in illnesses from Campylobacter.
Salmonella and Campylobacter illnesses are frequently associated with raw or undercooked poultry and much of the poultry that consumers purchase in the supermarket is sold as parts. The Food Safety and Inspection Service, which oversees meat and poultry safety, found high percent positive rates on poultry parts in a 2012 baseline study. The agency has indicated that is currently developing the first ever Salmonella performance standards for poultry parts and comminuted poultry products, which will hopefully help decrease rates of contamination on those products. The agency should finalize the standards soon and develop performance standards for Campylobacter as well.
One troubling finding from the data is that progress on reducing illnesses from E. coli O157:H7 looks to have stalled and in fact, may be trending back upwards after several years of success. Also troubling is that illnesses from non-O157:H7 STECs continue to trend upwards. Illnesses from E. coli O157:H7 and non-O157 STECs have shown no significant change when compared to the 2006-2008 baseline. In addition, for the third year in a row, the incidence of illnesses from non-O157 STECs (1.17 cases/100,000 population) is higher than illnesses from E. coli O157:H7 (1.15/100,000).
The U.S. continues to see almost no progress on Listeria illnesses, which are at 0.26 cases per 100,000.
The Consumer Federation of America is an association of more than 250 nonprofit consumer groups that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education.