In 2012, rates of infections from two germs spread commonly through food increased significantly when compared with a baseline period of 2006-08, according to a report from the CDC.
Infections from campylobacter — linked to many foods, including poultry, raw milk and produce — increased by 14% in 2012 compared with 2006-08, according to the nations annual food safety report card. Those infections were at their highest level since 2000.
Vibrio infections as a whole were up 43% when compared with rates observed in 2006-2008. Vibrio vulnificus, the most severe strain, has not increased. Foodborne vibrio infections are most often associated with eating raw shellfish.
Rates of most other foodborne illnesses did not change.
“The U.S. food supply remains one of the safest in the world,” CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, said in a news release. “However, some foodborne diseases continue to pose a challenge. We have the ability, through investments in emerging technologies, to identify outbreaks even more quickly and implement interventions even faster to protect people from the dangers posed by contaminated food.”
While progress had been made in the past few years in reducing infections from a dangerous type of E. coli, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157, rates went back up in 2012. Incidence of STEC O157 infection had decreased to 0.95 per 100,000 people in 2010, but last year rose to 1.12 per 100,000.
The Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, also known as FoodNet, a collaboration among the CDC, 10 state health departments, the U.S. Department of Agricultures Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Food and Drug Administration, tracks whether selected infections are increasing or decreasing.
Overall in 2012, FoodNets 10 state-based sites reported 19,531 illnesses, 4,563 hospitalizations and 68 deaths from nine germs commonly spread through foods.
Campylobacter is associated with eating raw or undercooked poultry, raw-milk dairy products, contaminated produce and contaminated water. It also is acquired through contact with infected animals. Campylobacter usually causes diarrhea, stomach pain and fever that resolve in about a week. Vibrio lives naturally in sea water, and foodborne vibrio infection most often is linked to eating raw oysters. It is rare, but can cause serious, life-threatening infection, especially in people with liver disease.
In 2011, the Food Safety and Inspection Service implemented new and revised industry performance standards for campylobacter and salmonella, respectively, to decrease the presence of these pathogens in broiler chickens and turkeys. The FDA is working closely with its federal and state partners to better understand the root causes of the increase in Vibrio.
People who want to reduce their risk of foodborne illness should assume raw chicken and other meat carry bacteria that can cause illness, and should not allow these foods to cross-contaminate surfaces and other foods, according to the CDC. People also should cook chicken and other meat well, and avoid consuming unpasteurized milk and unpasteurized soft cheeses.
Cooking seafood thoroughly always is best, the CDC notes. People at greater risk for foodborne illness with the most severe outcomes, such as pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems, should not eat raw or partially cooked seafood, including oysters that have been treated after harvest.
The full report, published in the April 19 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, is available at www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6215a2.htm?s_cid=mm6215a2_w. More information on avoiding illnesses from food is available at www.foodsafety.gov.