Foodborne Illnesses

About 48 million Americans, or 1 in 6, get sick from contaminated food every year, and some 3,000 die of foodborne diseases.

This year’s statistics bring good news and bad news, according to federal officials. The good news is that U.S. infections from E. coli and some types of salmonella are down. The bad news is that infections from other types of salmonella and lesser-known pathogens are up.

That was the update contained in a report released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“The news is mixed,” said Dr. Patricia Griffin, chief of the enteric diseases epidemiology branch at the CDC. “Clearly more work needs to be done.”

Infections from the toxin that produces E. coli O157, usually associated with undercooked ground beef and leafy raw vegetables, have decreased by 32 percent from the average yearly numbers between 2006 and 2008, federal officials reported. Compared to the prior three-year period, E. coli O157 infections were down 19 percent.

This type of E. coli infection can lead to kidney failure.

Foodborne Illnesses

Salmonella typhimurium, one of the most common types of salmonella, had 27 percent fewer infections in 2014 than during 2006-2008.

However, salmonella javiana and salmonella infantis, which are less common, more than doubled in the same time period. Officials said the reasons for the increase are unclear.

Campylobacter, the second leading cause of foodborne illness in the United States, has increased 13 percent since 2006-2008. Vibrio, usually associated with seafood, has jumped 52 percent in the same time period. 

Get the Facts: What Is E. coli?»

Federal Officials Credit Safety Programs for Successes

Tougher inspection standards and better consumer information programs have helped stem the tide of E. coli and salmonella illnesses, said officials from the CDC, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

They credited increasing scrutiny of beef products for the decline in E. coli infections. 

“We’re cautiously optimistic that changes in food safety practice are having an impact in decreasing E.coli and we know that without all the food safety work to fight salmonella that more people would be getting sick with salmonella than we are seeing now,” said Dr. Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the CDC’s division of foodborne, waterborne, and environmental diseases.

But there’s more work to be done.

“A sustained effort is needed,” said Dr. Kathleen Gensheimer, director and chief medical officer for the FDA’s coordinated outbreak response and evaluation team.

The FDA plans to publish new regulations on food safety by the end of the summer. These rules will focus on preventive controls on processed foods and the safety of imported foods.

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How the Diseases Are Being Tracked

Federal officials use the FoodNet system to track foodborne illness. FoodNet keeps records on 48 million people, about 15 percent of the U.S. population.

In 2014, the system logged more than 1,900 infections, 4,400 hospitalizations, and 71 deaths from the nine foodborne germs it tracks.

Salmonella and campylobacter are the two most common illnesses, accounting for three quarters of the reported infections.

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