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Reported Cases of Salmonella, E. coli, and Other Food-borne Illnesses Aren't Slowing Down

April 9, 2009 -- The CDC today reported that nine food-borne illnesses, including salmonella and E. coli, were about as common in 2008 as they've been since 2004.

Progress at cubing those illnesses has "plateaued," Robert Tauxe, MD, MPH, deputy director of the CDC's Division of Foodborne, Bacterial, and Mycotic Diseases, said at a news conference.

Tauxe says there has been "no change" in reports of lab-confirmed food-borne illnesses since 2005, and "little significant change" since 2004.

The new food-borne illness statistics appear in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

What about last year's salmonella outbreak, which was first pegged to tomatoes and then to jalapeno peppers? Or the salmonella outbreak linked to peanut butter and other peanut products from the Peanut Corporation of America?

Those outbreaks did bump up rates of certain types of food-borne illness.

But most cases of food-borne illness aren't the result of national outbreaks; for instance, outbreaks accounted for only 7% of the salmonella cases reported to the CDC in 2008.

How Many Cases of Food-borne Illness?

The CDC's new report is based on data from 10 states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Tennessee.

Together, those states got a grand total of 18,499 laboratory-confirmed cases of nine food-borne illnesses in 2008.

Here's how those illnesses ranked:

  1. Salmonella: 7,444 cases
  2. Campylobacter: 5,825 cases
  3. Shigella: 3,029 cases
  4. Cryptosporidium: 1,036 cases
  5. E. coli 0157: 718 cases
  6. Yersinia: 164 cases
  7. Listeria: 135 cases
  8. Vibrio: 131 cases
  9. Cyclospora: 17 cases

Children younger than 4 accounted for a greater proportion of reported food-borne illnesses than other age groups.

Several food-borne illnesses -- yersinia, shigella, listeria, sampylobacter, and shiga toxin-producing E. coli 0157 -- have become less common since 1996-1998. But overall, the rate of reported food-borne illness hasn't budged much since 2004, Tauxe notes.

"Perhaps we should be grateful that it hasn't really increased," Tauxe says, noting the complexity of the modern food industry. Still, Tauxe says there is "no question that our food supply is much safer now than 50 or 100 years ago," thanks to pasteurization, cleaner water, and better control of many animal diseases.

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