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A report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in collaboration with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) showed important declines in foodborne infections due to common bacterial pathogens in 2004.
For the first time, cases of E. coli O157 infections, one of the most severe foodborne diseases, are below the national Healthy People 2010 health goal. From 1996-2004, the incidence of E. coli O157 infections decreased 42 percent. Campylobacter infections decreased 31 percent, Cryptosporidium dropped 40 percent, and Yersinia decreased 45 percent.
Overall, Salmonella infections dropped 8 percent, but only one of the
five most common strains declined significantly. Different Salmonella
strains are found in a variety of animal hosts and in different
geographic locations. Further efforts are needed to better understand
why some Salmonella strains tend to contaminate produce during
production and harvest. FDA has recently developed a plan to decrease
foodborne illnesses associated with fresh produce. To better control
foodborne pathogens in animals and plants, prevention efforts should be
implemented across the farm to table continuum.
"This report is good news for Americans and underscores the importance
of investments in food safety. Our efforts are working and we're making
progress in reducing foodborne illnesses," said CDC Director Dr. Julie
Gerberding. "However, foodborne disease is still a significant cause of
illness in the United States and further efforts are needed to sustain
and extend these important declines and to improve prevention of
"The continued reduction in illnesses from E. coli O157 is a tremendous
success story and we are committed to continuing this positive trend in
the future," said USDA Secretary Mike Johanns. "These results
demonstrate that through innovative policies and strong and consistent
enforcement of inspection laws, we are protecting the public's health
through a safer food supply."
Several factors have contributed to the decline in foodborne illnesses.
USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service implemented a series of new
recommendations beginning in 2002 to combat E. coli O157 in ground beef
and Listeria in ready-to-eat products. In response, most establishments
have significantly enhanced their food safety systems. Many have
applied new technologies to reduce or eliminate pathogens and have
increased their testing to ensure the effectiveness of control measures.
Furthermore, these improvements likely reflect industry efforts to
reduce E. coli O157 in live cattle and during slaughter.
The reduction in Campylobacter infections may be due to greater consumer
awareness of safe poultry handling and cooking methods. Food safety
education efforts targeted to specific foodborne hazards as well as
general consumer tips, such as the public-private Fight Bac campaign,
have helped consumers become more aware and knowledgeable of food safety
hazards and how to prevent them.
The incidence of Shigella, which is found in a wide variety of foods,
did not change significantly from 1996 through 2004. Vibrio infections
increased 47 percent. Vibrio infections, which are primarily associated
with consumption of certain types of raw shellfish, can be prevented by
thoroughly cooking seafood, especially oysters.
In 1996, the FoodNet surveillance system began collecting valuable
information to quantify, monitor, and track the incidence of laboratory
confirmed cases of foodborne illnesses caused by Campylobacter,
Cryptosporidium, Cyclospora, E. coli O157, Listeria, Shigella, Yersinia
and Vibrio. Since its inception, FoodNet has grown to include ten
states and 44 million people, about 15 percent of the American
The full report, "Preliminary FoodNet Data on the Incidence of
Infections with Pathogens Transmitted Commonly Through Food - Selected
Sites, United States, 2004" appears in this week's Morbidity and
Mortality Weekly Report (April 15, 2005) and is available online at