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News Release

Thursday, April 29, 2004

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E. Coli 0157 Incidence Posts Substantial Decline: Other Foodborne Illnesses Continue Downward Trend

Cases of E. coli O157:H7 infections -- one of the most severe foodborne diseases -- showed a dramatic decline last year, decreasing 36 percent compared to the previous year, according to foodborne surveillance data released today.

The data released by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in collaboration with the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agricultural also showed that the incidence of three common foodborne diseases -- Campylobacter, Salmonella and Yersinia infections -- continued substantial declines seen in past eight years.

The overall incidence of E. coli O157:H7 infections has declined 42 percent since 1996, while Campylobacter infections have dropped 28 percent and Salmonella infections have decreased by 17 percent.

Cases of other less common bacterial and parasitic foodborne diseases have also decreased since surveillance began in 1996. Yersinia infections have decreased 49 percent, and Cryptosporidium infections have decreased 51 percent.

"These findings are good news for Americans and signify important progress toward meeting HHS' Healthy People 2010 objectives for reducing the incidence of disease caused by these bacterial infections," HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said. "However, we must remain vigilant and continue our work to make America's food supply as safe as possible. Much work remains to be done, particularly in protecting our children from foodborne illness."

"The Department of Agriculture is committed to protecting public health through strong food safety systems," said Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman. "The Department of Agriculture has implemented a series of policies designed to control E. coli O157:H7 and other pathogens. We will continue to implement science based system to enhance our systems further to help continue the positive trend in foodborne illnesses illustrated in the CDC report."

The data also found that the incidence of Listeria, which had been decreasing the previous four years, did not decline in 2003. The national Listeria Action Plan was launched in 2003 to increase prevention efforts in the food chain, and a method is being developed in order to rapidly identify contaminated food items in outbreaks. The incidence of Salmonella Enteritidis, a common Salmonella serotype, has not changed significantly since 1996, demonstrating that additional efforts are needed to control this pathogen.

Children continue to suffer from foodborne illness in greater numbers than other groups. CDC, FDA and USDA are currently conducting a case-control study of sporadic cases of Salmonella and Campylobacter to find the best opportunities for prevention in young children.

Several factors have contributed to the overall decline in foodborne illnesses. Enhanced surveillance and outbreak investigations have identified new control measures and focused attention on preventing foodborne diseases.

The Department of Agriculture's Food Safety & Inspection System implemented the Pathogen Reduction/Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system in all 6,000 federally inspected meat, poultry and egg products plants over a three year period beginning in 1997. Since then, FSIS has strengthened HACCP enforcement through innovative inspector training and implemented rules to force plants to install new technologies and other methods proving they are effectively controlling dangerous pathogens like E. coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella.

Other interventions include the FDA's regulation requiring the refrigeration and labeling of shell eggs to prevent Salmonella Enteritidis infections; HACCP regulation of fruit and vegetable juices as well as seafood; extensive food safety education, publication and outreach of good agricultural practices for fresh produce; and increased regulation of imported food.

Foodborne pathogens annually are responsible for an estimated 76 million illnesses in the United States. In 1996, CDC, USDA and FDA established the FoodNet surveillance system to quantify, monitor and track the incidence of laboratory-diagnosed cases of foodborne illnesses caused by Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, Cyclospora, E. coli O157, Listeria, Salmonella, Shigella, Yersinia, and Vibrio. Since its inception, the FoodNet system has expanded to include nine sites and 41.5 million people, about 14 percent of the American population.

The full report, "Preliminary FoodNet Data on the Incidence of Infections with Pathogens Commonly Transmitted Through Food -- Selected Sites, United States, 2003" appears in this week's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (April 30, 2004) and is available online at www.cdc.gov/mmwr/.


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Last Revised: April 29, 2004