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CDC reports little change in foodborne illness

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 16-Apr-2010

Little or no progress has been made in reducing the incidence of foodborne illness in the United States in recent years, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC did see progress during 2009 in reducing the incidence of E. coli to the national health target of one case per 100,000 of the population, but it has missed public health objectives for all other foodborne illnesses measured as part of its Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, or FoodNet – and for listeria for five years in a row.

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) said that the reduction in E. coli was good news, but that it should be viewed cautiously, considering that the CDC has met this target before, in 2004, only to see the number of cases rebound.

The Consumer Federation of America said in a statement: “CFA hopes that the government and the industry will be appropriately modest about this news until this type of performance can be achieved year after year. It will take sustained and dedicated effort in order to maintain this recent success.”

Despite 2009 being marked by a widespread salmonella outbreak linked to peanut products, salmonella cases were down during the year compared to the 1996-1998 period. However, at 15.19 cases per 100,000 people, the number of cases was still more than double the national health target of 6.8.

A listeria target of 0.25 cases per 100,000 people was set in 2000, following the Ball Park franks incident, in which 21 people died from eating Bil Mar hotdogs. But the incidence of listeria was at its highest level in a decade in 2009, the CDC found, at 0.34 cases.

“The incidence of foodborne illnesses has changed little in recent years; foodborne illness continues to be an important public health problem in the United States,” the CDC said in its report. “...To reduce the incidence of foodborne infections further, multifaceted approaches involving public health, regulatory agencies, industry, and consumers are required.”

The CDC estimates that foodborne illness affects 76m people in the United States each year, leading to about 300,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths.

The agency’s FoodNet report can be accessed online here .

This latest data comes just over a week after the Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general reported that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – responsible for about 80 percent on the US food supply – was conducting fewer inspections of food manufacturing facilities. The FDA inspects foods other than meat, poultry and eggs, which are the responsibility of the US Department of Agriculture.

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