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Food-borne illnesses drop, but more work needed on salmonella pathogens

Food-borne illnesses drop, but more work needed on salmonella pathogens

The incidence of food-borne illness in the United States dropped by nearly a quarter since the late 1990s, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Researchers found that the overall incidence of six common food-borne pathogens was 23 percent lower in 2010 than in the years between 1996 and 1998.

“This report is further evidence that the food industry, in all segments, has made tremendous efforts over the past 10-15 years to implement programs like HACCP [hazard analysis and critical control points] and other initiatives to reduce foodborne illness,” said Mindy Brashears, professor of food safety and food microbiology and director of Texas Tech’s International Center for Food Industry Excellence.

The CDC based its findings on the rates of illnesses due to six types of bacteria: Campylobacter, Listeria, Salmonella, shiga-toxin producing E. coli O157, Yersinia and Vibrio. At least 50 percent of illnesses due to these bacteria are transmitted by food. The research team noted that other germs that commonly cause food-borne illness, such as norovirus, were not included in the data.

But not everything is upbeat. Salmonella enterica, commonly traced to undercooked chicken and eggs, caused 44 percent more illnesses in 2010 than in the late 1990s, spiking particularly in very young children under the age of four and adults older than 60. Salmonella causes 1 million cases of illness and 350 deaths in the U.S. each year.

“This report underscores the need to keep working on Salmonella,” Brashears said. “It causes the most deaths and the most illnesses overall of any foodborne bacterium, and it’s not just a foodborne pathogen. We can get it in the environment. We need to put real focus on this particular pathogen to make a significant change in this statistic.”

CONTACT: Mindy Brashears, Professor, Department of Animal and Food Sciences, Texas Tech University at (806) 742-2805 ext. 235 or mindy.brashears@ttu.edu

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