A government program has found that foodborne illnesses have increased to pre-pandemic levels.

In a preliminary report, the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) says that enteric infections from food have returned to or exceed levels logged from 2016-2018.

FoodNet is made up of public health staff from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and 10 state health departments.

The group tracks data for reported infections per 100,000 people for eight  foodborne pathogens: Campylobacter, Cyclospora, Listeria, Salmonella, Shigella. Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), vibrio and Yersinia.

The report suggests links between pandemic measures and decreases in foodborne infection rates.

“During 2020–2021, FoodNet detected decreases in many infections that were due to behavioral modifications, public health interventions, and changes in health care–seeking and testing practices during the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the research report.

Improved hygiene such as more hand washing could also have had an impact on the number of foodborne infections during the peak of the pandemic.

“Many pandemic interventions ended by 2022, resulting in a resumption of outbreaks, international travel, and other factors leading to enteric infections,” researchers wrote.

When compared to the average rate of infections during the 2016-2018 period, the incidence of infections from Campylobacter, Listeria, Salmonella and Shigella were back to the rates experienced before the pandemic.

For cyclospora, STEC, vibrio and yersinia infections increased beyond those logged for the pre-pandemic time period from 2016-2018. 

According to the CDC, Salmonella and campylobacter continue to be the top causes for infections monitored by FoodNet. The agency reports that increases in the use of culture independent diagnostic tests probably contributed to the increased detection of infections.

“Prevention measures targeted at reducing food contamination, including the FSIS-proposed Salmonella regulatory framework for reducing illnesses from poultry, are needed to mitigate the prevalence of disease and to meet Healthy People 2030 targets,” the researchers concluded.  

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