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Salmonella and Campylobacter Illnesses on the Decline

March 11, 1999
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
EMARGOED UNTIL 4PM: CDC, Media Relations Division
(404) 639-3286

The Department of Health and Human Services today released preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that show a decline in the overall incidence of Salmonella and Campylobacter infections, two of the most common causes of foodborne disease in the United States. The data come from the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet).

"These new findings are encouraging and show that our intensified fight against foodborne illness is paying off," said HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala. "However, we still have work to do. Foodborne disease remains a substantial public health burden that affects millions of people every year. I urge Congress to support our efforts to expand food safety programs throughout the Department."

The data show a 13 percent decline in the number of Salmonella infections between 1996 and 1998 and a 44 percent drop in the incidence of Salmonella enteritidis, a subtype of Salmonella infection associated with egg contamination that has been a major food safety problem since the 1980s. The data also indicate a 15 percent decline between 1997-1998 in the number of illnesses caused by Campylobacter, the most common bacterial foodborne pathogen in the United States. The preliminary findings were collected from five FoodNet sites in California, Georgia, Connecticut, Minnesota, and Oregon and published in the March 12 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

"The Administration's new, science-based inspection system requires meat and poultry plants to take steps to prevent contamination by Salmonella and other potentially dangerous pathogens," said Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman. "Our new system has resulted in a sharp decrease in Salmonella contamination of raw meat and poultry and, we believe, contributed to this decline in foodborne illnesses."

FoodNet data can be used to document the effectiveness of new food safety control measures such as USDA's Pathogen Reduction and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) Rule as well as HACCP programs undertaken by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for seafood and other food products.

Under the HACCP system, plants must develop a system of preventive controls and meet pathogen reduction performance standards for Salmonella set by USDA. Testing occurs to ensure that plants are meeting these tough standards.

"These reported declines in foodborne disease are encouraging and suggest that the stepped up prevention efforts of the USDA and the FDA may be working," said CDC director Dr. Jeffrey Koplan. "However, the reasons for these declines are not fully understood and more study is needed."

The incidence of E.coli 0157:H7 went from 2.7 cases per 100,000 population in 1996 to 2.3 in 1997 and then up to 2.8 per 100,000 in 1998. The fluctuation could be a normal variation. CDC continues to gather data about which specific foods caused the illnesses; however, previous studies have linked E. Coli infection to milk, drinking water, roast or ground beef, apple cider, lettuce and venison, among other foods, and even to swimming in pools and lakes.

FoodNet is a joint effort by HHS, the USDA, and state health departments to capture a more accurate and complete picture of trends in the occurrence of foodborne illness. Within HHS, the network involves the CDC and the FDA.

At FoodNet sites, public health officials frequently contact microbiology laboratories and other data sources for illness that may be caused by different foodborne pathogens on an active, ongoing basis using standardized data collection methods. Each case is reviewed and strains of the organisms are collected and analyzed. Special case control studies are conducted in order to identify the major risk factors for disease. Data are then electronically submitted to CDC for analysis.

FoodNet sites began collecting data in 1996. Currently sites are located in California, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, and Oregon. The total population of these sites is 20.5 million (7.7% of the total U.S. population). Additional FoodNet sites will be added to the program; Tennessee is scheduled to begin collecting data in 1999.

CDC is currently using incidence and community survey data from FoodNet as well as other data sources to improve the estimates of total foodborne illness in the United States. These estimates, soon to be published, will provide the best information to date on the burden of foodborne disease in the United States.

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