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CDC Report Finds Foodborne Illness Prevention has Reached Plateau

The incidence of the most common foodborne illnesses has changed very little over the past three years, according to a 10-state report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The findings are from 2008 data reported by the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet), a collaborative project of CDC, Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), Food and Drug Administration, and 10 state sites.

FoodNet monitors foodborne disease and conducts related epidemiologic studies to help health officials better understand the epidemiology of these infections in the United States. Each year, the current data is compared to the previous three years and the period from 1996 to 1998, the first three years of surveillance. The FoodNet population is similar to the U.S. population and therefore provides reliable information on the incidence and trends of foodborne illness in the United States.

Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, Listeria, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O157, Salmonella, Shigella, Vibrio, and Yersinia did not change significantly when compared to the previous three years (2005-2007), the latest data showed. Although there have been significant declines in the incidence of some foodborne infections since surveillance began in 1996, these declines all occurred before 2004. The incidence of Salmonella infections has remained between 14 and 16 cases per 100,000 persons since the first years of surveillance.

"This year's report confirms a very important concern, especially with two high-profile Salmonella outbreaks in the last year," said Robert Tauxe, M.D., M.P.H, deputy director of CDC's Division of Foodborne, Bacterial, and Mycotic Diseases. "We recognize that we have reached a plateau in the prevention of foodborne disease and there must be new efforts to develop and evaluate food safety practices from the farm to the table. The foodborne division at CDC is planning to increase the capacity of several health departments so that outbreaks can be better detected and investigated."

USDA's Salmonella Initiative Program, which began in 2006, has already significantly reduced the presence of Salmonellain raw meat and poultry products, according to David Goldman, M.D., M.P.H., assistant administrator of USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service. "We have worked hard to reduce contamination in FSIS-regulated products and have seen marked success in Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes. We are concerned about the lack of progress in reducing the incidence of foodborne illness and believe this report points to the need for better information about sources of infection."

FDA is using new tools to help predict potential threats to foods and the best options for prevention to meet the many challenges of an increasingly complex food-supply chain, according to David Acheson, M.D., associate commissioner for foods, who said, "The FDA is embarking on an aggressive and proactive approach in protecting and enforcing the safety of the U.S. food supply. The agency is committed to make the necessary changes to keep unsafe products out of the marketplace before they reach consumers."

Consumers can reduce their risk for foodborne illness by following safe food-handling and preparation recommendations and by avoiding consumption of unpasteurized milk, raw or undercooked oysters, or other raw or undercooked foods of animal origin such as eggs, ground beef, and poultry. Risk also can be decreased by choosing pasteurized eggs, high pressure-treated oysters, and irradiated produce. Everyone should wash hands before and after contact with raw meat, raw foods derived from animal products, and animals and their environments. More detailed information on food safety practices is available at www.foodsafety.gov and www.fightbac.org.

The full report, titled "Preliminary FoodNet Data on the Incidence of Infection with Pathogens Transmitted Commonly Through Food -- 10 States, United States, 2008," appears in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (April 10, 2008) and is available online at www.cdc.gov/mmwr.

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