CDC Reports Some Progress in Fighting Food Poisoning

Posted on May 15, 2015

Salmonella colorized electronic micrograph from NIAID

According to the National Institute of Health, 48 million people get sick from tainted food every year in the U.S. That means one in six Americans will suffer symptoms of food poisoning this year. Approximately 3,000 people die from contaminated food each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its report of the state of foodborne illness in the U.S. which details how the fight against food poisoning is going. The answer is: not that great.

The report reveals the infections from some types of salmonella and more obscure pathogens have increased. But there is some good news. Some infections are down from prior years: E.coli infections and some types of salmonella infection have decreased.

FoodNet is the CDC's surveillance system that tracks nine of the most common foodborne pathogens in 10 states. It also monitors trends in foodborne illness in 15% of the population, then extrapolates those numbers. The report is for 2014 and compares those numbers to the statistics from prior years.

In 2014, the most common illnesses were from Salmonella and Campylobacter. But what is concerning to officials is that more obscure pathogens are starting to cause problems. For example two obscure strains of salmonella, Javiana and Infantis, more than doubled in 2014 and no one knows why. Overall, Salmonella infection rates have stayed the same, though.

Stricter monitoring of beef products have reduced the occurrence of Shiga toxin-producing E.Coli (STEC)0157:H7, which is a nasty pathogen that can cause kidney failure. But the pathogen can also be found in leafy green vegetables. The report does not address the recent listeria outbreaks found in ice cream. The report notes that new DNA testing is helping the CDC to identify pathogens more quickly.

In 2015 the FDA is going to publish new regulations to improve food safety in the U.S. Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine at FDA, said "Prevention of illness is the fundamental goal of our new rules under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. We have worked with a wide range of stakeholders to devise rules that will be effective for food safety and practical for the many diverse elements of our food system."

As summer approaches, foodborne illnesses become a real hazard. You know the drill. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Don't cross-contaminate in the kitchen. Be sure to disinfect counters and cutting surfaces. And if you're packing for an outdoor picnic, prepare foods that can go without refrigeration without making everyone ill.

The website Foodsafety.gov is a great resource that answers every question you might have about food safety in the home, from prep to cooking to how to diagnose foodborne illness.

Photo: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases