Attempts to reduce food poisoning are failing as the U.S. incidence of foodborne illnesses continues to increase. Infections from five of eight pathogens tracked by the CDC are on the rise.
Initial analysis of data comparing the period from 2016-2018 with numbers for 2019 (see table below) shows that the federal government’s Healthy People 2020 targets for reducing foodborne illness will not be met, according to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The bad news could be softened if businesses would adopt proven food safety measures, according to the research team.
“. . . progress in controlling major foodborne pathogens in the United States has stalled,” according to the report. “To better protect the public and achieve forthcoming Healthy People 2030 foodborne disease reduction goals, more widespread implementation of known prevention measures and new strategies that target particular pathogens and serotypes are needed.”
A network of labs in 10 states, dubbed FoodNet, tracks the eight foodborne pathogens covered in the report: Campylobacter, Cyclospora, Listeria, Salmonella, Shigella, shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), Vibrio, and Yersinia. Infections caused by Listeria, Salmonella, and Shigella remained flat. Illnesses from all other pathogens showed increases.
The research team specifically held up leafy greens and other fresh produce as problematic.
“Laboratory-diagnosed non-O157 STEC infections continue to increase. Although STEC O157 infections appear to be decreasing, outbreaks linked to leafy greens continue. Produce is also an important source for Cyclospora, Listeria, and Salmonella,” according to the report.
The chicken industry also got attention in the report.
“Reductions in Salmonella serotype Typhimurium suggest that targeted interventions — e.g., vaccinating chickens and other food animals — might decrease human infections,” states the report.
“. . . Reducing contamination during food production, processing, and preparation will require more widespread implementation of known prevention measures and of new strategies that target particular pathogens and serotypes.”
While Campylobacter and Salmonella were responsible for the most illnesses, proportionally, trends in incidence among several Salmonella serotypes varied.
Researchers gave a nod to technology, specifically culture independent diagnostic tests (CIDTs), but they say better testing cannot account for the significant increases of infections from some pathogens and no change in others.
Number of laboratory-diagnosed bacterial and parasitic infections, hospitalizations, and deaths, incidence and percentage change compared with 2016–2018 average annual incidence rate, by pathogen —10 U.S. sites, Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet),* 2016–2019†
Abbreviations: CI = confidence interval; N/A = not applicable; STEC = Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli.
* Data collected from laboratories in Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, and selected counties in California, Colorado, and New York.
† Data are preliminary.
§ Cases per 100,000 population.
¶ Percentage change reported as increase or decrease. CIs not including zero are statistically significant.