ATLANTA -- Overall, foodborne illnesses related to common bacterial pathogens continued to decline last year, according to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in collaboration with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Officials credited the decrease to enhanced food safety systems, new technologies to reduce or eliminate pathogens, and increased testing of the control measures. In particular, USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service implemented new recommendations in 2002 to combat E. coli 0157:H7 in ground beef, and listeria in ready-to-eat products. The guidelines prompted most establishments to improve their food safety systems, officials said.
"The continued reduction in illnesses from E. coli 0157 is a tremendous success story. We are committed to continuing this positive trend," said USDA Secretary Mike Johanns. "These results demonstrate that through innovative policies, and strong and consistent enforcement of inspection laws, we are protecting the public's health through a safer food supply."
The news was less positive for salmonella illnesses. Overall, salmonella infections dropped 8%, but only one of the five most common strains declined significantly, officials said. Salmonella infections related to fresh produce and eggs continue to challenge health authorities.
In fact, 2004 set a record for salmonella illnesses linked to tomatoes, after more than 500 cases of infection associated with tomatoes were reported.
"This report is good news for Americans and underscores the importance of investments in food safety," said Julie Gerberding, director, CDC. "Our efforts are working, and we're making progress in reducing foodborne illnesses. However, foodborne disease is still a significant cause of illness in the United States. Further efforts are needed to sustain and extend these important declines."
Vibrio infections increased 47%, the report revealed. Vibrio infections, which are primarily associated with eating certain types of raw shellfish, can be prevented by thoroughly cooking seafood, particularly oysters, officials said.
From 1996 to 2004, the incidence of E. coli 0157:H7 infections decreased 42%, Campylobacter infections dropped 31%, Cryptosporidium dropped 40%, and Yersinia decreased 45%.
Government health officials have been tracking foodborne infections each year since 1996. That's when the FoodNet surveillance system began collecting data to quantify and track confirmed cases of foodborne illnesses caused by Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, Cyclospora, E. coli 0157:H7, listeria, Shigella, Yersinia and Vibrio.
The full report is titled "Preliminary FoodNet Data on the Incidence of Infections with Pathogens Transmitted Commonly Through Food -- Selected Sites, United States, 2004."