Foodborne Outbreaks Falling Short of U.S. Reduction Goals

The U.S. is falling short of goals to reduce salmonella, listeria and campylobacter outbreaks, foodborne pathogens that contribute to 48 million illnesses a year, according to preliminary government data for 2011.

Salmonella cases fell last year to 16.5 per 100,000 people, short of the goal for a reduction to 6.8 illnesses per 100,000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said July 27. Incidents of listeria, a bacterium found in prepared foods and soil, and campylobacter, which causes diarrhea and vomiting, rose last year and failed to meet the health objectives.

Salmonella remains the most frequent cause of foodborne sickness in the U.S. with an estimated 1.2 million stricken each year and $365 million in direct medical expenditures, the CDC reported June 2011. The Consumer Federation of America, a Washington-based advocacy group, is using the new data to push for a more rapid roll out of the Food Safety Modernization Act, a sweeping set of rules passed by Congress in January 2010 that have missed deadlines for implementation.

“Progress on reducing foodborne illness remains stalled, and for most of the major pathogens, seems to be moving in the wrong direction,” the federation said in a July 28 statement.

Illnesses from E. coli O157, one of the most common types of E. coli, increased to 0.98 cases per 100,000 people in 2011 from 0.95 in 2010. Incidents met the national goal of 1 case per 100,000, and are about half the rate of 2000, according to the data. The report is based on data from 10 state health departments covering an area that includes 47 million people, or about 15 percent of the U.S. population.

Prevention Targets

The government set the goals to reduce foodborne illness for 2010. Those expectations remain a benchmark used by the CDC, with further reductions targeted for 2020.

The CDC “quietly posted” the information online last week without doing stakeholder briefings that have occurred in previous years, according to an e-mail from Christopher Waldrop, director of the Consumer Federation of America’s food policy institute.

The CDC didn’t put out a news release, Lola Russell, a spokeswoman for the Atlanta-based agency, said in an e-mail today without elaborating.

Salmonella and E. coli are different bacteria that are both passed from the feces of people or animals to others. Poultry is the food most-associated with Salmonella outbreaks, according to the CDC. E. coli is typically found in ground meat products.

Contaminated food causes an estimated 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths annually, according to the agency.

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