2011 brought little change in foodborne disease incidence

Jul 30, 2012 (CIDRAP News) – The incidence of illnesses caused by the most common foodborne pathogens, with the exception of Escherichia coli O157:H7, has stayed about the same or increased a bit over the past few years, according to 2011 data released by the Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC).

Compared with 2006 through 2008, rates of Salmonella and Campylobacter infections increased slightly in 2011, while Listeria incidence was unchanged, according to the CDC's 2011 FoodNet foodborne disease report. E coli O157:H7 cases were lower, but the incidence of Shiga toxin–producing E coli (STEC) strains other than O157 was higher.

The data come from FoodNet surveillance in 10 states, with about 47 million people. The CDC counts confirmed cases and calculates the number of cases per 100,000 population for each pathogen. The 2011 report was released late Friday (Jul 27).

For Salmonella, the incidence in 2011 was 16.47 cases per 100,000 population. That was down slightly from 17.55 in 2010, but higher than the 2006 incidence of 14.76. Since the CDC's baseline measurement period of 1996 to 1998, Salmonella incidence has changed little, hovering between about 13 and 17 cases per 100,000.

The Salmonella level for 2011 remained well above federal government targets. The Healthy People 2010 target for the pathogen was 6.8; for 2020 the target was raised to 11.4.

Campylobacter incidence was up slightly in 2011 at 14.31 cases per 100,000, compared with 13.52 in 2010, according to the FoodNet data. The level of Campylobacter cases dropped sharply in the first years after the 1996-98 baseline—it was 23.59 in 1996—but it has changed little since then.

Like Salmonella, Campylobacter incidence in 2011 was higher than the Healthy People 2010 goal, which was 12.3 cases per 100,000. The objective for 2020 is 8.50.

For Listeria cases, the 2011 incidence was 0.28 case per 100,000, which was up a hair from 0.27 in 2010 and exactly the same as in 2006. The government's 2010 goal for Listeria incidence was 0.24 per 100,000; for 2020 the target is 0.20.

The incidence of E coli O157 in 2011 was 0.98 case per 100,000 people—up slightly from 0.95 the year before but below the 2010 target level of 1.0. The level was well below the 1.30 reported 5 years earlier in 2006 and far below the 2.62 reported back in 1996.

On the other hand, the measured level of non-O157 STEC cases in 2011 was 1.08 per 100,000, up from 0.95 in 2010 and 0.53 in 2006, according to the CDC.

The incidence of hemolytic uremic syndrome cases—a potentially fatal kidney complication associated with E coli infections—was not reported for 2011.

For other pathogens, the CDC listed the following incidence levels, with the figures for 2010 and 2006 shown for comparison:

  • Shigella, 3.21 (3.77, 6.10)
  • Vibrio, 0.33 (0.41, 0.34)
  • Yersinia, 0.34 (0.34, 0.36)
  • Cryptosporidium, 2.83 (2.75, 1.94)
  • Cyclospora, 0.05 (0.06, 0.09)

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) said the report indicates "that progress on reducing foodborne illnesses remains stalled, and for most of the major pathogens, seems to be moving in the wrong direction."

The group called on the Obama administration to move ahead on regulations to implement the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, enacted early last year, which is designed to strengthen contamination-prevention efforts all along the food chain.

"The FDA has proposed regulations to implement four major components of the law—produce safety, preventive controls for food and animal feed, and import safety—yet the rules are now seven months overdue and have been delayed by the Obama Administration," the CFA said. "The Administration should immediately release the rules so that FDA can move forward on implementation of the new law."

See also:

2011 FoodNet report home page

Jul 28 CFA press release

Jun 7, 2011, CIDRAP News story on last year's FoodNet report

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