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WASHINGTON -- E. coli and Salmonella infections are on the rise in the United States, but other foodborne illnesses appear to be leveling off, according to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Data from 10 states show that infections caused by Campylobacter, Listeria, Shigella, and Yersinia have all fallen since the 1990s.
But after declining sharply in 2003 and 2004 when the meat industry pulled together to make ground beef safer, rates of E. coli 0157:H7 infections have rebounded, and many appear to be related to outbreaks in fresh produce, the CDC said.
The findings are from 2006 data reported to the CDC as part of the agency's Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, also known as FoodNet, which monitors foodborne disease and related epidemiologic studies to help health officials better understand the epidemiology of foodborne diseases in the United States.
The FoodNet data showed there continues to be little change in the incidence of Salmonella cases, and progress made in 2003 and 2004 in reducing the number of cases of with E. coli O157 infections has been lost. Vibrio infections, which are often related to the consumption of raw shellfish like oysters, have increased to the highest level since FoodNet began conducting surveillance.
"As recent outbreaks have shown, too many people in the United States are getting sick each year from foodborne illnesses," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, CDC director. "For instance, the outbreaks involving tomatoes, lettuce and spinach underscore the need to more effectively prevent contamination of produce. We're also working to strengthen our ability to quickly detect and identify foodborne illnesses. We know the faster we can detect an outbreak, the faster we can take actions that will help protect people."
The 2006 FoodNet data indicated that the incidence of infections caused by E. coli O157 and Salmonella was similar to 1996-1998 baseline years. The reasons for the lack of decrease in the incidence of infections caused by E. coli O157 and Salmonella are not fully understood. One possible explanation is the development of cases of disease in foods that previously were not associated with these diseases, such as spinach and peanut butter.
Previous efforts to decrease the incidence of E. coli O157 in ground beef and Salmonella in eggs have been successful, but contamination of other foods may be the problem now, according to Dr. Robert Tauxe, deputy director of CDC's Division of Foodborne, Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases.
"FoodNet is an important part of our food safety efforts," said Tauxe. "We're constantly working to improve our ability to quickly detect foodborne illness outbreaks and determine the cause. With additional resources, particularly at the state and local levels, we can investigate and prevent foodborne illness in a timelier manner."
Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), said the new data show that federal food safety agencies are failing in their job to protect Americans from foodborne illness. "In the last six months, huge outbreaks associated with spinach, tomatoes, peanut butter and lettuce shook Americans' confidence in the safety of the food supply. Even pet food has been recalled after an outbreak affecting thousand of cats and dogs."
The Government Accountability Office recently put food safety on the list of high risk programs, she said, adding that "clearly, these programs are failing and need to be fixed.