Chicken, eggs, and produce are most likely to carry bacteria responsible for the vast majority of foodborne illness in the United States.
The bacteria most likely to make you sick year after year: Campylobacter and Salmonella. Less common pathogens also include Shigella, Cyclospora, and Listeria.
Foodborne illness is still a major health problem in the United States, according to
The agency identified more than 25,000 foodborne infections through various surveillance sites in 2018. Nearly 6,000 of those cases resulted in hospitalizations, and 120 people died as a result of foodborne illness.
The report is part of annual surveillance by the CDC that tracks the pathogens responsible for foodborne illness.
“What’s significant about our findings is really that Campylobacter and Salmonella remain the most commonly reported bacterial foodborne infections,” Danielle M. Tack, DVM, an epidemiologist with the CDC and first author of the report, told Healthline.
“I think the big thing too is that we’re not seeing a decline in over 10 years for Salmonella Enteritidis, and that’s despite a lot of different actions trying to reduce Salmonella,” she said.
Salmonella is estimated to cause more than 1 million illnesses and nearly 500 deaths
Most infections from Salmonella result in diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps within 12 to 72 hours. While most individuals will recover without treatment, in some cases severe diarrhea may require hospitalization. If the bacteria spreads to the bloodstream, it can be fatal without antibiotics.
Campylobacter remains the most frequent cause of infection annually, where it has topped the CDC’s list since 2013.
Campylobacter infection results in fever, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea that’s often bloody. Additionally, it can cause nausea and vomiting. Symptoms typically present within two to five days of exposure.
This year’s CDC report also noted a massive uptick in infections — nearly 400 percent — related to the microscopic parasite Cyclospora. The parasite is believed to be associated with foodborne illness outbreaks from produce.
However, the authors note that the increase in reported infections may have to do with improvements in lab testing.
Foodborne illnesses are hard to track. Some individuals may get minimal symptoms and not seek treatment. Even if someone does go to a doctor, they have to get a culture test done to determine the specific cause of the infection. That’s why the CDC can only estimate the total burden of foodborne illness year after year.
Using newer tests, known as culture-independent diagnostic tests (CIDTs), can mean more accurate results.
According to Tack, using CIDTs, which can test for 22 different pathogens at once, could partially be responsible for the increase in Cyclospora infections in the report.
For both Campylobacter and Salmonella, the most commonly contaminated foods are chicken and eggs.
“For something like Salmonella or Campylobacter, Salmonella specifically, it’s natural gut flora in a lot of our food species. So with poultry, we see a lot of salmonella and people eat a lot of chicken so it’s a combination of two factors there,” said Tack.
Americans do eat a lot of chicken. They also eat a lot of eggs. Combine some of the country’s most popular foods with the chance of foodborne illness and it’s easy to see why Salmonella and Campylobacter infections remain so prevalent.
“The CDC’s recent report on foodborne illness tells two stories. The first is that poultry and produce remain common sources of human infection. This is especially important, as health-conscious Americans seek to limit their red meat intake and eat more vegetables and fruit,” said Dr. Michael Grosso, chief medical officer and chair of pediatrics at Northwell Health Huntington Hospital, Huntington, New York.
Federal agencies and local governments have all taken steps to help reduce foodborne illness in recent years, but the CDC report seems to indicate that they’ve not been as effective as hoped.
The Food and Drug Administration drafted
In California, producers of spinach and other leafy greens announced additional mandatory safety measures after an illness outbreak linked to romaine lettuce.
Tack encouraged anyone cooking for themselves or their families to follow basic food safety rules like temperature monitoring, not eating raw or undercooked food, or leaving food out on the counter for too long.
Cooking is the last line of defense against foodborne pathogens, so produce can present a problem. Raw vegetables like those used in salads should always be washed before consuming.
Finally, always wash your hands when preparing food or handling raw meat.
“Hand-washing is probably the number one prevention for just about any human illness,” said Tack.