CDC: Illness From E. coli Is Declining
Health Officials Say Federal Goals Have Been Met for Reduction in E. coli Infections
April 15, 2010 -- Illnesses caused by a potentially deadly strain of E.
coli have been cut in half since the mid-1990s, meeting a target set
following a particularly serious outbreak of the food-borne pathogen, CDC
In 1993, hundreds of people became ill and four children died following an
outbreak of Echerichia coli O157 traced to undercooked fast-food
Soon after the outbreak, federal officials set the goal of reducing E.
coli O157 illness to no more than one case per 100,000 people by 2010.
That goal was reached in 2009, CDC officials now say. But they add that
there has been little progress in reducing illness from other food-borne
pathogens in recent years.
E. coli Illness Lowest Since 2004
Along with the FDA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and 10 state health
departments, the CDC has been tracking illnesses caused by nine food-borne
pathogens since 1996 through the FoodNet program.
In addition to E. coli O157, the pathogens include salmonella,
listeria, campylobacter, shigella, vibrio, yersinia, cryptosporidium, and
During the first years of surveillance, significant declines were seen in
illness caused by most of the pathogens. But with the exception of E.
coli, food-related illness has not declined much since 2004, officials now
Chris Braden, MD, of the CDC said at a news conference that illnesses caused
by E. coli have dropped by 25% over the past three years and are at
their lowest levels since 2004.
Braden is the CDC's acting director of the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne
and Environmental Diseases.
"This decrease may be due, at least in part, to continuing efforts to
decrease contamination of ground beef and leafy green vegetables consumed raw,"
E. coli outbreaks in the fall and early winter of 2006 were traced to
fresh bagged spinach and lettuce.
Since last summer, meat processors have been required to test all components
of meat used in ground beef. Around the same time, inspectors received new
guidelines for evaluating sanitation in meat processing plants.
David Goldman, MD, MPH, administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture
Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), attributed much of the E.
coli decline to these changes.
Salmonella 'Still a Challenge'
The report confirms that 2010 target levels for salmonella, listeria, and
campylobacter have not been met, and Goldman singled out salmonella as a
Raw and undercooked poultry and eggs are major sources of salmonella
FSIS inspectors reported a decline in processed poultry contaminated with
salmonella in 2009, compared to 2006, and an increase in processing plants that
met the agency's standards for preventing contamination, according to the
But Braden says these improvements have not translated into hoped for
declines in salmonella illness.
"Salmonella continues to be a challenge," he says. "Salmonella is the most
commonly diagnosed and reported food-borne illness. The incidence of salmonella
infections has declined by 10% since surveillance began in 1996, but it is
furthest of any of the pathogens from the goals we have set for