Food makers will be encouraged by a new report that reveals food safety actions along the supply chain appear to be paying off, with new figures from the US government showing cases of the harmful food pathogen E.coli have fallen in recent years.
From 1996 to 2004, the incidence of E. coli O157 infections decreased 42 percent. campylobacter infections fell 31 percent, cryptosporidium dropped 40 percent, and yersinia decreased 45 percent.
But highlighting work to be done to slash levels of salmonellabacteria, a major problem in most countries across the globe that can lead to hefty costs for the public and private sector, only one of the five most common strains of Salmonella declined significantly: overall salmonella infections dropped 8 percent.
"Further efforts are needed to better understand why some Salmonella strains tend to contaminate produce during production and harvest," says the report, compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The report suggests that several factors have contributed to the decline in foodborne illnesses; for example, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service implemented a series of new recommendations beginning in 2002 to combat E. coli O157 in ground beef and listeria in ready-to-eat products.
"Many [firms] have applied new technologies to reduce or eliminate pathogens and have increased their testing to ensure the effectiveness of control measures," claims the report.
And the fall in Campylobacter infections may be due to greater consumer awareness of safe poultry handling and cooking methods, as well as food safety education efforts.
Findings for the report were drawn from the FoodNet surveillance system that in 1996 began collecting valuable information to quantify, monitor, and track the incidence of laboratory confirmed cases of foodborne illnesses caused by a raft of pathogens including: campylobacter, cryptosporidium, cyclospora, E. coli O157, listeria and shigella,.
Since its inception, FoodNet has grown to include ten states and 44 million people, about 15 percent of the American population.
Full findings from the report are available online.