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More work needs to be done to protect the public from unsafe food, new research shows


Salmonella and Campylobacter continue to cause the most foodborne illness in the United States, and progress in reducing foodborne illness has stalled, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on the recent release of preliminary data documenting trends in foodborne illness.

Compared to 2014-2016, the preliminary data from 2017 shows increases in foodborne illnesses for several pathogens, especially Campylobacter, Listeria, and certain types (non-O157) of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli infections. The data show a significant decrease in illnesses from certain strains of Salmonella, but these are offset by increases in illnesses caused by other Salmonella strains, resulting in a 5 percent decrease overall. However, Campylobacter illnesses rose 10 percent in 2017 compared to 2014-2016.

“This data shows we need to do more to protect Americans from unsafe food,” said Thomas Gremillion, director of Consumer Federation of America’s Food Policy Institute. “The steep increase in campylobacteriosis is particularly concerning. Campylobacter affects millions of people every year and often causes serious long-term health impacts. The Salmonella data gives some cause for optimism, but it’s too early to tell whether it will be sustained.”

The CDC attributed some of the increases in reported illnesses to changes in diagnostic testing and reporting. However, for some pathogens, such as Listeria, which caused 26 percent more illnesses in 2017 than in 2014-206, most infections continue to be diagnosed by culture rather the new “culture-independent diagnostic tests.”

“There is more to the story here than just a shift to culture-independent diagnostic testing,” said Gremillion.

Among the sharpest increases recorded in the data was the number of Yersinia infections recorded in 2017, which exceeded 2014-2016 levels by 166 percent. Yersiniosis is an infection usually caused by eating pork. The lack of progress in reducing illness from this pathogen is a concern as the Food Safety and Inspection Service is seeking to carry out a new inspection program for pigs, but the agency has little data on how the proposed program will actually affect microbiological contamination rates on pork, he said.


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