Infection rates of the foodborne pathogens Campylobacter and Vibrio parahaemolyticus rose in 2012, while other major pathogens generally maintained rates similar to recent years, according to the nation’s annual “food safety progress report” published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Thursday.
Campylobacter infections, most commonly associated with poultry and raw milk, rose 14 percent in 2012 compared to rates during the period of 2006-2008. Vibrio, often associated with raw shellfish, rose by 43 percent compared to the same period.
Last year marked the highest rate of Campylobacter infections since 2000. For every confirmed case of Campylobacteriosis, the CDC estimates another 30 cases go unrecorded.
Each year, the CDC releases its annual report card based on data collected through FoodNet, a national collaborative network maintained by CDC, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and state and county health departments in 10 states, whose jurisdictions encompass approximately 15 percent of the U.S. population.
Rates of major pathogens such as Salmonella, Listeria and E. coli O157:H7 remained consistent during the 2006-2008 period. E. coli rates had dipped in more recent years, but now seem to have returned to 2006-2008 levels.
Overall, FoodNet tracked 19,531 illnesses in 2012, and 4,563 hospitalizations and 68 deaths tied to nine different foodborne pathogens. Those numbers only account for pathogens that test positive in a clinical lab culture, which is a small percentage of the total estimated number of foodborne illness cases, health officials said in a telephone conference with reporters on Thursday. Foodborne illness affects an estimated 48 million Americans annually.
“There are many infections that occur in addition to those that are actually diagnosed,” said CDC Deputy Director of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases, Dr. Robert Tauxe. “We know this from outbreaks when a large group of people become ill, but a smaller group of people actually go to see the physician or get cultured and turn up as culture confirmed. And we know this from our surveys of the population.”
While FoodNet tracks nine of the most common foodborne pathogens, it does not track Norovirus, the nation’s most common cause of gastroenteritis. Most clinical labs do not test for Norovirus, and the virus is often transmitted from person to person, not necessarily via food.
When asked why Campylobacter numbers have risen, Dr. David Goldman, Assistant Administrator of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, said that rates of Campylobacter found on whole chickens and turkeys have actually declined since the 2006-2008 period. It may be that other products — or even ground chicken and ground turkey — are seeing a rise in Campylobacter contamination.
“At least among the products that we are most concerned about being contaminated with Campylobacter, we are seeing what appears to be decreasing numbers,” Goldman said.
Asked if changes to laboratory practices or adoption of new laboratory technologies have impacted the project’s results over time, Dr. Tauxe said that there has been little change within FoodNet surveillance to date, but that program managers continually monitor for the adoption of new technology and practices.
FoodNet data is collected by the state health departments of Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon and Tennessee; and in select counties in California, Colorado and New York. Those areas encompassed approximately 47 million Americans as of 2010.
Graphics courtesy of CDC.© Food Safety News