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Nation's Food Safety Not Improving, According to Latest CDC Report That Shows No Drop in Food Poisoning Cases

April 10, 2008 -- Efforts to improve U.S. food safety have not yet borne fruit, a new CDC report shows.

The CDC's Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, called FoodNet, began tracking cases of food-borne illnesses in 1996 in 10 U.S. states. The idea is to track infection trends for the 10 most important causes of food poisoning.

The 2007 FoodNet numbers are here. The news isn't awful, but it isn't good either, CDC and FDA officials today acknowledged at a news conference.

"There is not a particularly important change from the last few years," said Robert Tauxe, MD, MPH, deputy director of the CDC's division of food-borne diseases. "A lot of things have been going on to improve food safety, and we think they are likely to bear fruit ... but we cannot say we have made tremendous progress in the last year."

"We have not seen as substantial a decline as we would like to see," said Elisabeth Hagen, MD, executive associate for public health at the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service.

While there have been significant declines in food-borne illnesses since 1996, there has been no significant improvement since 2004. Compared with 2004-2006, there's been no real decline in cases of food-borne disease caused by campylobacter, listeria, salmonella, shigella, E. coli, vibrio, or yersinia bacteria.

Cases of infection with the waterborne parasite cryptosporidium went up, but Tauxe said that was because of a new treatment for the parasite, spurring more doctors to test patients for the bug.

2007 was also a year in which there were several widespread outbreaks of salmonella infection, including outbreaks from contaminated peanut butter, frozen pot pies, puffed vegetable snacks, and live pet turtles.

In November 2007, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services unveiled a plan to improve food safety. But Tauxe noted that federal efforts are only one part of food safety.

"Food safety is an important problem, one that begins on the farm and continues to the kitchen," he said.

The 2007 FoodNet report appears in the April 11 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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