July 30, 2012 — The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published a new report on Friday, showing that the rates of many foodborne illnesses have been rising for the last five years. Although most types of food poisoning have dropped significantly since tracking began in 1996, the report shows increasing rates of Salmonella, Campylobacter, Listeria, and many strains of E. coli.
The report estimated that there were 48 million cases of food poisoning in the U.S. in 2011. Salmonella poisonings are on the rise, from 14.5 cases per 100,000 people in 1996 to 16.5 cases in 2011. The incidence of listeriosis and campylobacter poisoning also increased in the last few years, though rates are still lower than they were in 1996.
The Salmonella bacteria continues to cause the most cases of food poisoning in the U.S., with 1.2 million illnesses per year. Salmonella is responsible for approximately $365 million in medical expenses per year. The next most-common foodborne illness is Campylobacter. Both diseases are often transmitted through poultry products.
The Consumer Federation of America (CFA), a consumer safety advocacy group, published a statement in response to the report. They said, “The preliminary data indicates that reducing foodborne illnesses remains stalled, and for most of the major pathogens, seems to be moving in the wrong direction.” They used this data as evidence that government officials should act more swiftly to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, which was signed into law in 2010 but has not yet been implemented.
It is possible that voluntary industry standards are responsible for some of the decreased cases of food poisoning. For example, E. coli 0157 fell to 0.98 cases per 100,000 people from 2.26 cases in 1996. Following several major E. coli outbreaks, the beef industry required producers to screen their products more thoroughly. This is likely keeping more contaminated products off the market. The poultry industry, however, has not issued similar standards. Pathogens that are commonly transmitted on poultry (Salmonella and Campylobacter) have risen in the last five years.
Food poisoning causes an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths per year. Most healthy adults recover without hospitalization, usually within a few days to a week. Food poisoning is most likely to be life-threatening for young children, the elderly, the unborn babies of pregnant women, or people with a weakened immune systems.
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