CDCbuilding_406x250Twenty years ago, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta established the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) to track incidence of foodborne illness. For the September 2015 issues of Emerging Infectious Diseases, members of the FoodNet workgroup wrote about the history and achievements of the program. In the late 1980s and 1990s, CDC wanted to create a system that measured the frequency of enteric infections and their effects on society, but there was no money available for such a project. Following the 1992-1993 E. coli O157 outbreak linked to Jack-in-the-Box hamburgers caused 732 laboratory-confirmed infections and the deaths of four children, regulatory officials needed a way to determine whether the changes they and the industry made would lead  to a decline in infections. In 1995, the CDC established FoodNet with the support of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and began collecting data in 1996. Today, the population-based active surveillance system tracks the incidence of selected major bacterial and parasitic illnesses transmitted commonly by food, attributes illnesses to sources and settings, and estimates the total numbers of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. FoodNet has also conducted five population surveys which have provided data not only for estimating the number of foodborne illnesses in the U.S., but also for eating habits (a higher proportion of men reported eating pink hamburger and runny eggs), for reference to help epidemiologists in identifying the source of outbreaks, and for obtaining information quickly in a crisis (questions about hunting practices, eating venison, and travel were added in the mid-2000’s during the mad cow disease scare). Its purview includes bacterial infections caused by Campylobacter, Listeria, Salmonella, Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O157 and non-O157, Shigella, Vibrio and Yersinia, and parasitic infections caused by Cryptosporidium and Cyclospora. Over time, the FoodNet has grown to encompass about 15 percent of the country’s population in Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon and Tennessee, and in certain counties in California, Colorado and New York. What’s more, Australia’s OZFoodNet and FoodNet-Canada have modeled some of their activities on FoodNet surveillance. FoodNet has documented significant decreases in the incidence of E. coli O157 infections since 1996–1998 and in HUS since 2001. It also has documented lack of significant change in the overall incidence of Salmonella infections and marked changes in some specific serotypes, indicating that efforts targeting specific serotypes are needed to decrease Salmonella infections. Regulatory agencies use this kind of information to influence food safety policies and monitor progress toward national health objectives. “The benefits of FoodNet for public health are far-reaching,” authors of the CDC article wrote. “As experts in surveillance, FoodNet site epidemiologists are often leaders in conducting multistate outbreak investigations, many of which result in industry or regulatory changes that make food safer.” They consider some of FoodNet’s future challenges to be advances in culture-independent diagnostic tests (CIDTs), the need to determine whether strategies to preserve the effectiveness of antimicrobial drugs are working, and the need to update the technology for obtaining data. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)