ATLANTA — The overall rate of foodborne illnesses has not changed since 2006-2008, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The report examined 2012 incidences of infection from nine pathogens tracked by the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet), a system in place since 1996 that incorporates data from 10 states accounting for 15% of the U.S. population.
“FoodNet reports that the overall incidence of these infections considered together has not changed significantly in recent years,” Robert Tauxe, Deputy Director, CDC Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases, said in a media call.
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In 2012, FoodNet listed 19,531 infections, 4,563 hospitalizations and 68 deaths associated with foodborne illnesses.
As in previous years, salmonella was the most commonly reported illness. Although incidences of the Typhimurium strain, that once was the most common form of salmonella, have decreased significantly, illnesses from other strains, or serotypes, have increased so the overall rate has not changed much since 1996.
“But the fact that we’re still where we were a decade ago means that further efforts will be needed to prevent more salmonella infections and bring that number of infections lower than they are now,” said Tauxe.
Antibiotic resistance in salmonella does not appear to be the cause, he said.
“The ups and downs in the individual serotypes doesn’t seem to have much to do with whether they’re antibiotic resistant or not,” said Tauxe.
He stressed that antibiotic resistance was a concern for the CDC.
“We think it would be very useful and important to be able to link the antibiotic-resistance information to the information that we have in FoodNet. And we’ve been working hard on methods and mechanisms to make that happen, but that is not something we’re able to do overnight,” said Tauxe.
Incidences of campylobacter, the second most common illness, have gone up 14% since 2006-2008. Officials had difficulty explaining the increase.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service issued new performance standards for campylobacter in whole chickens and turkeys in 2011 and preliminary data show a drop in contaminated poultry, said David Goldman, assistant administrator, Office of Public Health Science, FSIS.
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However, campylobacter cases are usually isolated incidences, rather than part of an outbreak.
“And because there this is relative lack of outbreak data on campylobacter, it really is quite a challenge to all of us, all three of the agencies, in trying to determine what leads to this second most common bacterial cause of foodborne illness,” said Goldman.
While some previous campylobacter outbreaks have been linked to poultry, others resulted from raw milk consumption or, rarely, raw produce, said Tauxe.
Though the number of infections is still low, since 2006-2008 there has been a 43% spike in illnesses from Vibrio, a pathogen found in marine water and often associated with raw oyster consumption. Officials could not pinpoint a reason for this jump.
The rate of E. coli 0157 was unchanged since 2006-2008.
“FDA is concerned that the rates of these major foodborne illnesses have not decreased in recent years. And certainly these data from CDC highlight the importance of the new rules from the Food Safety Modernization Act, which will help reduce foodborne illness,” said Jeff Farrar, director of intergovernmental affairs and partnerships, FDA.
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