Stop the Presses: Foodborne Illness Still a Big Problem in U.S.

Stop the Presses: Foodborne Illness Still a Big Problem in U.S.

new report  released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms what regular readers of this blog already know: Foodborne illness remains a major problem in the United States.

The agency cites "limited progress" in its annual survey of foodborne illnesses in the U.S.

The survey - technically called the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, but nicknamed FoodNet - is a representative sample drawn from 10 sites in nine states where the CDC has arrangements with epidemiologists and laboratory personnel. 

Those 10 sites, most of them at state health departments, cover 48 million people, or about 15 percent of the U.S. population, and track laboratory confirmed infections with nine different food-borne pathogens (including ol' faves salmonella, E. coli and listeria). So this is far from an exhaustive report. But among that 15 percent, in 2013, there were:

  • 19,056 lab-confirmed foodborne illnesses,
  • 4,200 of which were severe enough to cause the person to be hospitalized,
  • and 80 of which resulted in death.

"For most infections, incidence was well above national Healthy People 2020 incidence targets and highest among children aged younger than 5 years," the CDC says in its report.

(The CDC did a nationwide extrapolation of foodborne illness based on its 2011 data and concluded that in that year there were 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.)

The agency compared the 2013 numbers against two sets of data, one covering 2010-12 and the other 2006-08.

The agency concluded that, compared with 2010 - 2012, the estimated incidence of infection in 2013 was slightly lower for salmonella, 75% higher for Vibrio, and unchanged overall. Since 2006 - 2008, the overall incidence has not changed significantly. (What the heck is Vibrio, you ask? It is a bacteria that occur naturally in warm coastal areas, such as the Gulf of Mexico, and tends to sicken people through raw or undercooked shellfish, according to Food Safety News. Now that is no fun at all.)

"Foodborne disease continues to be an important problem in the United States. Most illnesses are preventable," the CDC says in its report. "More needs to be done. Reducing these infections requires actions targeted to sources and pathogens, such as continued use of Salmonella poultry performance standards and actions mandated by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)." (Little dig at Foster Farms, CDC?)

Note that none of those smiley-faces in the CDC's chart is actually smiling. At best, their expression says, "Meh. My tummy kind of hurts."

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