TUESDAY, June 7 (HealthDay News) -- As a deadly new strain of E.
coli in Europe makes headlines, U.S. health officials announced
Tuesday that salmonella, not E. coli, remains the biggest foodborne
health threat to Americans.
In fact, while rates of several types of foodborne illness --
including E. coli -- have been falling over the past 15 years,
there's been no progress against salmonella infections, according
to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While infections from Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157 (the
strain of most concern in the United States) have dropped almost in
half and the rates of six other foodborne infections have been cut
23 percent, salmonella infections have risen 10 percent, the agency
"There are about 50 million people each year who become sick from food in the U.S. That's about one in six Americans," CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said during a noon press conference Tuesday.
In addition, about 128,000 people are hospitalized and about
3,000 die from foodborne illnesses each year, he added.
"We need to do more, because foodborne illnesses are too common," Frieden said.
The CDC's report on foodborne illness is timely in light of the
deadly E. coli outbreak in Germany, which has already sickened more
than 2,200 and caused 22 deaths. The E. coli found in Germany is a
cousin to E. coli O157 found in the United States. Both produce the
Shiga toxin that can cause kidney failure and death.
This new report from the CDC includes data from the 2010 CDC's
Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, called FoodNet,
which collects data on laboratory confirmed cases of foodborne
In 2010, there were 20,000 illnesses, 4,200 hospitalizations and
68 deaths from nine types of foodborne infections, reported via
Of those, salmonella accounted for 8,200 infections, including
2,300 hospitalizations and 29 deaths. That's 54 percent of all
hospitalizations and 43 percent of the deaths reported through
FoodNet, according to the CDC.
And that's likely just the tip of the iceberg, because for every
laboratory-confirmed case of salmonella there are at least 29
unreported cases, the agency says.
Speaking at the press conference, Michael R. Taylor, Deputy
Commissioner for Foods at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,
said that "by implementing the new Shell-Egg Safety Rule, we expect
the rule to reduce the number of salmonella infections for eggs by
nearly 60 percent."
However, at its best, that would still only translate to a
reduction of about 10 percent of all salmonella cases, Frieden
On the positive side, the rate of E. coli O157 cases, which can
be a deadly infection have been cut in half over the past 15 years.
This strain, affected two in every 100,000 people in 1997, had
dropped to 0.9 cases per 100,000 by 2010, the CDC noted.
This reduction in infections from E. coli O157 is largely due to
to better detection and investigation of outbreaks, cleaner
slaughterhouse methods, better testing of ground beef for E. coli,
improved inspections of ground beef processing plants, regulations
prohibiting E. coli O157 in ground beef and increased awareness of
the importance of properly cooking beef, the agency said.
Other foodborne illnesses that fell in incidence over the same
time period include those caused by the campylobacter, listeria,
vibrio and yersinia pathogens.
To reduce their risk of foodborne illness, people should assume
that raw chicken and other meat have bacteria that can make you
sick. In the kitchen, raw meats should not allow to contaminate
counter tops or cutting boards and should be kept away from other
foods, such as fruits and vegetables, the CDC advises.
In addition, while washing fruits and vegetables is important,
meat and poultry should never be washed, Also, meat, poultry, eggs
and shellfish should be cooked thoroughly. And, one should not
drink unpasteurized milk and juice and not eat unpasteurized soft
cheese, the CDC says.
Commenting on the CDC report, infectious disease expert Dr. Marc
Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at New York University
in New York City, said that "although there has been some progress,
foodborne illness is still a major problem."
These infections often spring from livestock, Siegel said, "and
we create the problem by the way the animals are bred and fed," he
said. "We generate the salmonella problem with the way we raise
"They are compressed in cages standing in their own poop," Siegel said. "They are raised in squalid conditions that breeds salmonella."
The only way to effectively decrease salmonella infection is to
vaccinate chickens against the bacteria and pasteurize eggs, he
In addition, cattle are fed grain, which breeds bacteria such as
E. coli, he added. On top of that, livestock are often given vast
amounts of antibiotics, which can create antibiotic-resistant
strains of bacteria, he said.
Siegel noted that bacterial contamination of produce usually
comes from animal waste, which then contaminates water used to
irrigate fruits and vegetables.
"It's easy to teach people how to barbecue properly, but how about getting the bugs out of the meat in the first place?" he said.
Until food production practices are improved there will be more
outbreaks of foodborne illness, Siegel said. "Outbreaks are
inevitable," he said.
For more information on foodborne illness, visit the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
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