Food safety falls short of national goals

The latest CDC numbers find that progress has stalled. Rates are flat or starting to increase.

By Victoria Stagg Elliott — Posted May 5, 2008

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After declining precipitously from 1996 to 2004, the rate of most diseases caused by foodborne pathogens was unchanged in 2007. Also, some numbers have started to go up, according to a report in the April 11 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

"[This] serves to remind us that food safety is a continuing problem that starts at the farm and continues through the food chain all the way to the kitchen, be that the kitchen of a restaurant or someone's kitchen at home," said Robert Tauxe, MD, MPH, deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's division of foodborne, bacterial and mycotic diseases.

Researchers gathered data from 10 state laboratories and found rates for Campylobacter stuck at 12.79 illnesses per 100,000. Listeria remained at 0.27 per 100,000. Salmonella hung at 14.92, although the typhimurium and heidelberg varieties became less common. The incidence of Salmonella newport increased. About 6.26 per 100,000 people were sickened by Shigella, and Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli struck 1.20 per 100,000. Cryptosporidium increased by 44%, although this may be due to improved testing and treatment options, and 2.67 per 100,000 were made ill by this parasite. All case rates were higher than Healthy People 2010 goals.

Concern about food-related illness continues after a spate of recent outbreaks and related product recalls. For example, Malt-O-Meal Co. last month recalled various cereals because of Salmonella contamination. The CDC recorded 21 related illnesses in 13 states. In March, another Salmonella outbreak that sickened 50 people in 16 states was associated with imported cantaloupes.

In order to reduce such outbreaks in the future, the Food and Drug Administration issued a food protection plan in November 2007. The American Medical Association published in 2001 and updated in 2004 a resource, "Diagnosis and management of foodborne illnesses: A primer for physicians and other health care professionals," in conjunction with the CDC, FDA, the American Nurses Assn. and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. An online version is expected within the next few months.

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External links

"Preliminary FoodNet Data on the Incidence of Infection with Pathogens Transmitted Commonly Through Food -- 10 States, 2007," Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, April 11 (link)

American Medical Association on diagnosis and management of foodborne illnesses (link)

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