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U.S. Food Safety Improving, Says CDC

Common Food Infections Are Down
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WebMD Health News

April 14, 2005 -- Important progress has been made in food safety, but there's still room for improvement, the U.S. government announced today.

Infections from common bacteria often transmitted by contaminated foodInfections from common bacteria often transmitted by contaminated food have dropped over the last few years, according to the CDC. Here are the decreases from 1996-1998 to 2004:

  • E. coli 0157: Down 42%
  • Campylobacter: Down 31%
  • Cryptosporidium: Down 40%
  • Listeria: Down 40%
  • Yersinia: Down 45%
  • Salmonella: Down 8%

The numbers come from FoodNet, a group of sites in 10 states that monitor the infections. The data don't single out food infections; these bacteria are typically transmitted through foods, but some can also be spread in other ways (such as through open wounds).

E. Coli Numbers Beat Government's Goal

For the first time, E. coli 0157 infections have dropped below one case per 100,000 people -- the government's goal for the year 2010.

This strain of E. coli has been linked to several serious outbreaks in the past, including infections linked to contaminated beef as well as water parks (contaminated with feces from young children). In rare cases it can cause severe infection that leads to kidney failure.

The decline is probably due in large part to improved production and handling of ground beef, say experts from the CDC, the USDA, and the FDA.

"We are very glad to see the sustained decline in E. coli 0157," says Robert Tauxe, MD, MPH, chief of the CDC's foodborne and diarrheal diseases branch, in a news conference. "We anticipate that more progress is possible."

Though significant progress was reported in food safety, not all foodborne bacteria declined.

Of the five most common types of salmonella, only one (Salmonella typhimurium) decreased significantly, says the CDC.

Salmonella is a bacterial infection that is most often caused by drinking unpasteurized milk or by eating undercooked poultry and poultry products such as eggs. Contact with pet reptiles,Contact with pet reptiles, including turtles and lizards, and baby chicks has also been linked to salmonella infections.

Shigella infections did not decline either, Tauxe told reporters. Shigella is a bacterium generally transmitted through feces. The disease generally occurs in tropical or temperate climates, especially under conditions of crowding, where personal hygiene is poor.

Vibrio infections -- associated with saltwater and usually spread through seafood -- increased 47%. That's a smaller increase than previously thought, according to the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Food Safety Tips

Food safetyFood safety is particularly important as the spring and summer picnic season is upon us. A "farm-to-table" approach to food safety is being emphasized by the government.

Here are some steps you can take:

  • Wash your hands before cooking and eating.
  • Keep your kitchen clean.
  • Don't use the same cutting board for raw meats and produce (unless you sanitize it between uses).
  • Cook seafood thoroughly, especially oysters.
  • Don't eat raw or undercooked shellfish, eggs, ground beef, or poultry.
  • Don't defrost frozen foods at room temperature.
  • Reheat leftovers thoroughly to kill any bacteria.
  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
  • Don't let food sit at warm temperatures for a long time.

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