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During the past 15 years, Salmonella infection, which causes more hospitalizations and deaths than any other type of germ found in food and $365 million in direct medical costs annually, has not declined.
In 2010, FoodNet sites, which include about 15 percent of the American population, reported nearly 20,000 illnesses, 4,200 hospitalizations and 68 deaths from nine foodborne infections. Of those, Salmonella caused more than 8,200 infections, nearly 2,300 hospitalizations and 29 deaths (54 percent of the total hospitalizations and 43 percent of the total deaths reported through FoodNet). CDC estimates that there are 29 infections for every lab-confirmed Salmonella infection.
The rate of E. coli O157 cases reported by FoodNet sites was 2 cases per 100,000 people in 1997 and, by 2010, had decreased to .9 cases per 100,000 people. The nearly 50 percent reduction in E. coli O157 incidence is considered significant when compared to the lack of change in Salmonella incidence. CDC credits the reduction in E. coli to improved detection and investigation of outbreaks through CDC’s PulseNet surveillance system, cleaner slaughter methods, testing of ground beef for E. coli, better inspections of ground beef processing plants, regulatory improvements like the prohibition of STEC O157 in ground beef and increased awareness by consumers and restaurant employees of the importance of properly cooking beef. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency that regulates meat, has led these efforts.
“Thanks to our prevention based approach to food safety, as well as industry and consumer efforts, we have substantially reduced E. coli O157 illnesses,” said Elisabeth Hagen, M.D., Under Secretary for Food Safety in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “This report demonstrates that we’ve made great progress. However, far too many people still get sick from the food they eat, so we have more work to do. That is why we are looking at all options, from farm to table, in-order to make food safer and prevent illnesses from E. coli, salmonella, and other harmful pathogens.”
The pathogens included in the overall 2010 rate reduction of 23 percent when compared to 1996-1998 are: campylobacter, E. coli STEC O157, listeria, salmonella, vibrio and yersinia. Rates of vibrio infection were 115 percent higher than in 1996-1998, and 39 percent higher than in 2006-2008. Most vibrio infections are the result of eating raw or undercooked shellfish.
Everyone can help reduce foodborne illness by doing the following:
- Clean. Wash hands, cutting boards, utensils, and countertops.
- Separate. Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood separate from ready-to-eat foods.
- Cook. Use a food thermometer to ensure that foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature: 145 F for whole meats (allowing the meat to rest for 3 minutes before carving or consuming), 160 F for ground meats, and 165 F for all poultry.
- Chill. Keep your refrigerator below 40 F and refrigerate food that will spoil.
- Report suspected illness from food to your local health department.
- Don’t prepare food for others if you have diarrhea or vomiting.
- Be especially careful preparing food for children, pregnant women, those in poor health, and older adults.