Foodborne Infection Rates Rise

A food safety report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on April 18, 2013, described the increased rate of infection of the foodborne pathogens Campylobacter and Vibrio parahaemolyticus. Other major pathogens maintained rates similar to previous years.

Campylobacter is an infectious source commonly associated with poultry and raw milk, while Vibrio is often associated with raw shellfish. Infection rates for campylobacter rose 14 percent last year compared to rates during 2006-2008; Vibrio rose by 43 percent in the same timeframe. The CDC releases its annual report card based on data collected through the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, or FoodNet, which is a national collaborative network maintained by CDC, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service, the FDA and state and county health departments in 10 states.

Overall, FoodNet tracked 19,531 illnesses in 2012, and 4,563 hospitalizations and 68 deaths tied to nine different foodborne pathogens. For most infections, incidence was highest among children under 5 years; the percentage of persons hospitalized and the percentage who died were highest among persons over 65 years. Those numbers only account for pathogens that test positive in a clinical lab culture; the CDC considers this number a small percentage of the total estimated number of foodborne illness cases. Foodborne illness affects an estimated 48 million Americans annually.

According to the CDC, the findings were subject to at least four limitations. First, health-care seeking behaviors and other characteristics of the population in the surveillance area would affect any generalizations made. Second, many infections transmitted commonly through food, such as norovirus, are not monitored by FoodNet because these pathogens are not identified routinely in clinical laboratories. Third, the proportion of illnesses transmitted by non-food routes differs by pathogen, and the route cannot be determined for individual, nonoutbreak-associated illnesses. Consequently, the CDC’s FoodNet data did not relate exclusively to infections from foodborne sources. Finally, in some cases resulting in death, the infection with the particular pathogen may not have been the primary cause of death.