Since the bad old days of the late 1990s, federal food safety officials say the incidence of the best-known foodborne illnesses have been cut back. Shigella is down 55 percent, E. coli O157 is down 41 percent, Campylobacter is down 30 percent, and Salmonella is off by 10 percent.
Those were among the positive findings of the “Preliminary Foodnet Data on the Incidence of Infection with Pathogens Transmitted Commonly Through Food–10 States, 2009” as published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).
MMWR is published by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta and FoodNet is a data-sharing project involving ten states and the federal government.
The most dramatic reductions are found when 2009 was compared with the 1996-1998 period. Dr. Chris Braden, who heads up CDC’s foodborne disease unit, said incident rates are mostly stable in more recent years. Braden’s comments came in a telephone conference with reporters.
“We can say that since FoodNet began surveillance in 1996, Campylobacter, Listeria, Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O157, Shigella, and Yersinia, six of the pathogens we track, have all declined,” he said.
Federal food safety officials from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and CDC say more needs to be done to protect the public from foodborne pathogens.
Foodborne illness costs Americans $152 billion a year, according to a recent study by Georgetown University and the Pew Chartable Trusts. CDC blames foodborne illness for 76 million illnesses and 5,000 deaths annually in the U.S.
Vibrio infections, associated with eating raw or undercooked shellfish, increased by 85 percent from the late 1990s period used as a baseline. Most of those illnesses are from bad oysters and while the number is a small percentage of total foodborne illness, serious illnesses and even death can result.
The ten states that are involved in FoodNet have a population of about 46 million people or about 15 percent of the total U.S. population.
Photo: This photograph depicts the colonial morphology displayed by Shigella boydii bacteria cultivated on a Hektoen enteric (HE) agar surface; colonies of S. boydii bacteria grown on HE agar display a raised, green, and moist appearance. CDC.