Foodborne Infection Rates Show Little Improvement in 2013

Efforts to reduce foodborne infections in the U.S. showed little improvement in 2013, according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although Salmonella infection rates decreased approximately nine percent over the last three years, the rate has now only broken even with the 2006-2008 baseline period. However, Campylobacter infections, which are commonly associated with dairy products and chicken, rose 13 percent since 2006-2008, and Vibrio infections, which are associated with raw shellfish, jumped 75 percent since 2006-2008 – the highest level recorded since the CDC started tracking the infection in 1996. The remaining foodborne infections tracked by the CDC have not changed since the 2006-2008 period.

“CDC data are essential to gauge how we’re doing in our fight against foodborne illness,” stated CDC deputy director Robert Tauxe, M.D., M.P.H. “This year’s data show some recent progress in reducing Salmonella rates, and also highlight that our work to reduce the burden of foodborne illness is far from over. To keep salmonella on the decline, we need to work with the food industry and our federal, state and local partners to implement strong actions to control known risks and to detect foodborne germs lurking in unsuspected foods.”

The Data

The CDC’s foodborne infection report card is supported with data from the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet), CDC experts, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, the FDA, and 10 state health departments. According to FoodNet, there were more than 19,000 foodborne infections, 4,200 hospitalizations, and 80 deaths in 2013, associated with the nine germs that the network tracks: Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, Cyclospora, Listeria, Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing O157 and non-O157 E. coli, Shigella, Vibrio, and Yersinia.

“The latest information from FoodNet highlights the importance of continuing preventive measures from the farm to the consumer,” stated FDA acting chief scientist Stephen Ostroff, M.D. “We are making significant progress in implementing the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, having issued seven proposed rules addressing the safety of produce, imported foods, and human and animal food production and transportation. Full implementation of these rules will help prevent these types of infections.”

A Look to the Future

According to CDC deputy director Tauxe, the changing landscape from laboratory cultures to rapid culture-independent diagnostic tests is challenging the CDC’s ability to identify foodborne illness cases, monitor trends, detect outbreaks, and characterize pathogens. However, the agency is researching advanced molecular diagnostic tests, such as whole genome sequencing, to examine Listeria. In addition, the CDC is enhancing its testing of anti-microbial-resistant infections and has established a new initiative to detect and protect against drug-resistant Salmonella.

“CDC and our colleagues at FDA and USDA are active and alert, and we keep working together to measure our progress, to identify risk factors, and to create solutions for our continuously evolving food safety system,” Tauxe stated in a CDC telebriefing. “This is a critical time for food safety. And we are especially encouraged by the convergence of efforts aimed at decreasing Salmonella infections so that the modest declines we’ve seen in the last few years can continue and Salmonella can continue to decrease,” Tauxe said. “The report being released today says that more work needs to be done. And it reminds us of the human health impact these diseases have.”