Food Poisoning Prevention Having Little Effect on Outbreaks

According to a government report released yesterday, despite efforts in the US to contain <"">food borne illness, there has been no reduction in the number of infections, as a matter-of-fact, food borne illness reports remained stable last year following a prior period of decline.  The 10-state report issued by government researchers found no change in the rate of infections caused by Listeria, Salmonella, Shigella, E.coli O157, and several other bacteria in 2007 compared with the previous three years.  The report actually showed an increase in Cryptosporidium—a parasite which causes diarrhea—levels in recent years; however, it is possible the spike in Cryptosporidium may have to do with better and increased testing and not with an increase in the transmission of that particular food borne disease.

In the past two years, high-profile food safety scares have involved peanut butter, spinach, milk, meat, and other products and have placed increased pressure on lawmakers to protect the nation’s food supply.  “We can’t say we’ve made tremendous progress in the last year,” Dr. Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Division of Food borne, Bacterial, and Mycotic Diseases said in a news conference recently.  “The most salient observation we see is that there is not a particularly important change from the last few years,” Tauxe said, adding that, “A lot of things have been going on to improve food safety and we still think they are likely to bear fruit … but we have not seen a particular decrease in the important sections that we are tracking.”  The data were collected under collaboration among the CDC, the FDA, the US Department of Agriculture, and state surveillance sites and tracked—and continues to track—data on related-related infections diagnosed in 10 states.  This effort also adds the results of other surveys so that an overall picture on individual infections can be seen and reviewed, said Tauxe.

An apparent rise in the food borne illness Cryptosporidiosis was linked to a new treatment which was making it more likely that doctors would send specimens for testing, Tauxe said.  “There is more of a reason to get the specimen to the lab and to have the test done so that doesn’t mean that there is actually more Cryptosporidiosis illnesses but it means that more are being diagnosed now,” said Tauxe.

Faye Feldstein, acting director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office (FDA) of Food Defense, said that the FDA will continue to pursue strategies to reduce all food borne illness.  Feldstein added that one important element was a food protection plan that covers the span of time from food production to consumption, or “from farm to fork.”  This process involves preventing food borne contamination, intervening at critical points in the supply chain, and responding to minimize harm, Feldstein said.

Consumers can reduce their risk for food borne illness by following safe food-handling recommendations and avoiding the consumption of unpasteurized milk, raw or undercooked oysters, raw or undercooked eggs, raw or undercooked ground beef, and undercooked poultry.

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