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More vigilance needed from regulators, industry and consumers, health official says

By Robert Preidt

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, April 18 (HealthDay News) -- Progress in reducing foodborne illness in the United States seems to have stalled, health officials reported Thursday.

"Every year, we estimate that about 48 million of us -- that would be one in six people in the United States -- gets sick from eating contaminated food," said Dr. Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the division of foodborne, waterborne and environmental diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2012, the nation's food surveillance program identified about 19,500 infections, about 4,500 hospitalizations and 68 deaths, Tauxe said at a noon press conference on the study results. Those numbers are similar to ones reported between 2006 and 2008, the report noted.

The findings appear in the April 19 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the CDC.

"We see, once again, that salmonella was the most commonly diagnosed and reported cause of infection among those that are tracked," Tauxe said, and while some types have decreased, others are on the rise.

Although the second most common infection, Campylobacter, decreased since the early 1990s, "it's still lower than it was in the 1990s but it has increased by 14 percent since a baseline period of 2006 to 2008," Tauxe said.

While still quite rare, he said Vibrio infections increased 43 percent in 2012, compared with 2006 to 2008.

"Vibrio organisms are found in marine waters where shellfish are harvested and many Vibrio infections are due to eating oysters," he noted. "However, not all are due to oysters and some infections are acquired from contact with marine water causing, for instance, wound infections."

E. coli O157 levels in 2012 were similar to those observed in 2006 to 2008, although in the past "substantial declines were observed following regulatory change and improvement in the food industry that particularly targeted ground beef," Tauxe noted.

"It is still the case now that numbers were lower than they were back in the 1990s," he said. "But right now we're just about where we were in 2006 to 2008, and we may need to identify additional ways to reduce contamination, as well as heightening awareness among consumers about the importance of thoroughly cooking and safely handling ground beef in their own homes."

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