Declines in Foodborne Illnesses Affirm Success of Industry Food Safety Strategies

ARLINGTON, Va. -- New data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing marked decline in foodborne illnesses between 2002 and 2003 affirm the effectiveness of in-plant food safety strategies, according to the American Meat Institute Foundation (AMIF).

In particular, data show a one-year 36 percent drop in E. coli O157:H7

infections from 2002 to 2003 and a 42 percent drop overall since 1996. While

a variety of foods have been linked to these infections, efforts by the meat

industry to reduce E. coli O157:H7 on beef products clearly are contributing

to this encouraging downward trend, according to AMIF. As USDA noted, the

reduction in E. coli O157:H7 illnesses brings the U.S. very close to achieving

the 'Healthy People 2010' goal of 1.0 case per 100,000 people.

The CDC also said that Campylobacter illnesses have dropped 28 percent,

Salmonella illnesses have decreased by 17 percent and Yersinia illnesses

dropped 49 percent since 1996. Illnesses caused by Listeria monocytogenes,

which have been sharply decreasing for the last decade and which have very

nearly reached the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Healthy People

2010 public health goal of no more than 2.5 cases per million people, saw no

statistically significant increase. These data confirm that efforts to

control Listeria monocytogenes in the meat industry are having a sustained and

measurable impact on meat safety.

"In 2001, the AMI Foundation declared that its two priorities would be to

reduce and ultimately eliminate E. coli O157:H7 on fresh beef products and

Listeria monocytogenes on ready-to-eat products," said AMI Foundation

president James H. Hodges. "Data collected by USDA have demonstrated

sustained decreases over time in bacteria on the products themselves. CDC's

new data tell us that the enhanced safety of our products are having public

health benefits."

Hodges pointed to a number of other promising food safety developments

announced in the last year that are associated with foodborne illness

reductions:

* Nov. 24, 2003: USDA announced that the rate of Salmonella in raw meat

and poultry dropped by 66 percent over the past six years and by 16

percent compared with 2002.

* Oct. 17, 2003: USDA released data showing a one-year, 25 percent drop in

the percentage of positive Listeria monocytogenes samples from ready to

eat meat and poultry products and a 70 percent decline compared with

years prior to the implementation of the Hazard Analysis and Critical

Control Points (HACCP) system.

* Sept. 17, 2003: USDA released data showing a drop in the number of E.

coli O157:H7 positive samples in ground beef collected in 2003 compared

with past years. Samples collected in 2003 showed a 0.32 percent

positive rate for E. coli O157:H7, down from 0.78 in 2002 and 0.84 in

2001. 2004 data is on track to show sustained reductions.

According to Hodges, AMI member companies in 2001 declared food safety a

non-competitive issue and began sharing data, technologies and ideas with one

another in an effort to reduce bacteria and enhance safety. Meat processing

employees have participated in numerous educational events to share "Best

Practices" for control of foodborne pathogens in meat products. The industry

also invested several million dollars in research aimed at finding new and

better ways to eliminate bacteria.

A number of new and important technologies and practices have been

deployed during this time period, including:

-- Enhanced aggressive microbiological sampling and testing programs for E.

coli O157, Listeria, Salmonella and other bacteria.

-- Changes to cattle feeding practices that reduce bacteria in live

animals.

-- Anti-pathogen technologies like steam pasteurization cabinets, steam

vacuum systems and carcass washing systems in fresh meat plants that

destroy bacteria on carcasses and meat cuts during processing.

-- New ingredients that are added to some ready-to-eat meat and poultry

products that prevent the growth of bacteria.

-- New principles for sanitary design of plants producing ready-to-eat meat

and poultry that help better sanitize and destroy bacteria in the

environment.

Research is ongoing to find additional technologies that will reduce

bacteria even further.

Hodges credited USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, which has

implemented new and more science-based inspection systems and provided

additional, scientific training for its 6,500 federal inspectors who are in

meat and poultry plants every day assuring compliance with federal

regulations.

At the same time, Hodges reminded consumers that they are the last line of

defense against foodborne illness. "These numbers are down dramatically, but

they aren't zero. For these reasons, remember to keep hot foods hot, cold

foods cold and separate raw and cooked products. Wash your hands before and

after handling meat products and store leftovers promptly," he said. "Most

importantly, use an instant read thermometer to ensure that products are

cooked thoroughly."

Source: American Meat Institute Foundation

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