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Foodborne Illnesses Remain Constant in U.S.

More needs to be done to extend safety practices, CDC reports

THURSDAY, April 10 (HealthDay News) -- After declining for several years, reports of foodborne illnesses have remained constant in the United States since 2004, federal health officials said Thursday.

And that leveling off of the rate of food poisonings casts into doubt the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's goal of reducing the overall number of foodborne infections by 2010.

"Food safety is a continuing problem that starts at the farm and continues through the food chain all the way to the kitchen," Dr. Robert Tauxe, deputy director of CDC's Division of Foodborne, Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases, said during a teleconference.

Given that rates of foodborne infection haven't changed significantly in the past three years, more needs to be done to improve food safety, Tauxe said "We have to be vigilant about hygiene practices and prevention all along the way to reduce the risk of foodborne infection," he said.

Tauxe said there have been significant declines in foodborne pathogens since 1996, but all the declines happened before 2004. "If we compare 2007 with the previous three years, we are not seeing significant changes in the incidence of these pathogens," he said.

For instance, the number of salmonella infections has changed very little since a federal monitoring system was established in 1996, Tauxe said. "We need more effort at all stages of food production, from farm to table, to effectively prevent the contamination of food from salmonella," he said.

In 2007, there were large outbreaks of salmonella poisonings linked to peanut butter and frozen pot pies, Tauxe noted.

E. coli infections reached a low point in 2003 and 2004, but increased again in 2005 and 2006, Tauxe said. The rate for 2007 was 14.92 diagnosed infections for every 100,000 Americans. Although that number was lower than the 2006 number of infections, it wasn't significantly different from the number of E. coli infections seen in 2004 in 2005, he said.

Tauxe said, "2006, of course, was the year of large outbreaks related to spinach and shredded lettuce, and 2007 was marked by a number of ground beef recalls."

Comparing statistics from 2007 to 2004 to 2006, the incidence of infections from campylobacter, listeria, shigella, vibrio, and yersinia did not drop significantly, he said.

The number of cryptosporidium infections increased, but that was probably due to better reporting rather than an actual increase in the number of infections, Tauxe said.

The findings came from the CDC's Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network -- FoodNet -- which monitors foodborne disease in 10 states. The report findings were published in the April 11 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

In 2007, they were total of 17,883 confirmed cases of foodborne infections, according to the report. The greatest number of cases was seen for salmonella, with an incidence rate of 14.92 per 100,000 people. Campylobacter infections were the next most common infection, with an incidence rate of 12.79, per 100,000 people. Next were shigella infections, with an incidence rate of 6.26 per 100,000 people.

The rates of infections were particularly high among children under 5 years of age, according to the report. Risk factors for these bacterial illnesses in young children include riding in a shopping cart next to raw meat or poultry, going to a day-care center, visiting or living on a farm, and having a pet turtle or other reptile, according to the report.

More information

For more on foodborne illness, visit the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: April 10, 2008, teleconference with Robert Tauxe, M.D., M.P.H., Deputy Director, CDC Division of Foodborne, Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases; US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta; April 11, 2008, CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report

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