BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. — Prevention is key to reducing cases of foodborne illness.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) releases a report each year discussing trends in foodborne illnesses in the United States. The trends show the public which illnesses are increasing and which are decreasing, and this helps experts know where education for prevention needs to occur.
One such expert is Londa Nwadike, state food safety specialist for Kansas State Research and Extension and University of Missouri Extension. Nwadike said the report is important, as it helps target specific foodborne illnesses that are on the rise, even though the numbers could be a bit skewed.
“The number reported only includes the number of the people who actually go to the doctor when they are sick,” Nwadike said. “We know there are a lot of people who get foodborne illness who don’t go to the doctor.”
Foodborne illness trends in 2013
The 2013 report shows that campylobacter infections, which are often linked to chicken and unpasteurized dairy products, have risen 13 percent since 2006-2008.
“That’s a pretty big increase,” Nwadike said. “Another one that went up in the past year is vibrio, which is often associated with seafood. Some people like to eat raw shellfish, which is not the safest practice.”
Vibrio infections in 2013 were at the highest level observed since active tracking began in 1996. The report showed a 75 percent increase in cases of vibrio compared with 2006-2008, but rates of infections caused by Vibrio vulnificus, the most severe species, have remained steady.
The cases of vibrio reported, Nwadike said, are associated with both Atlantic and Pacific shellfish. One particular strain of the bacteria that causes the illness was previously associated with Pacific shellfish only. This shows that sometimes pathogens can learn to adapt to the environment, change over time and find ways to survive in different settings.
The CDC report showed that the rate of salmonella infections decreased by about 9 percent in 2013 compared with the previous three years and brought it back to the rate observed in 2006-2008. Rates of the other foodborne infections tracked have not changed since the period between 2006 and 2008.
“We always want the trends to go down, but sometimes there is a multitude of reasons why the trend is stagnant,” Nwadike said. “This is just a sign that we need to continue to have food safety efforts all the way from the farm to the fork, from the producer, processor, transporter, retailer and consumer.”
Tips to prevent foodborne illness
Generally speaking, when people think they have the “stomach bug” and have symptoms that might include diarrhea, vomiting and nausea, many times the symptoms were caused by foodborne illness, Nwadike said. The illness could also be waterborne or from contact with another infected person.
“It’s difficult to completely eliminate foodborne illnesses from happening, but you can make sure you’re following good food safety practices,” she said. “We often talk about cook, chill, clean and separate. Make sure your food is not in the temperature danger zone (40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit) for more than two hours.”
People can also help lessen the prevalence of foodborne illness by consuming lower-risk foods, Nwadike said. For example, raw milk, raw sprouts or raw shellfish are higher risk. Eating pasteurized or cooked versions of those foods make them lower risk for foodborne illness.
More information about food safety can be found at local extension offices or MU Extension’s food safety website at http://missourifamilies.org/foodsafety.
The data for the report is derived from the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet), a group of experts from CDC, 10 state health departments, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In 2013, FoodNet logged just over 19,000 infections, 4,200 hospitalizations and 80 deaths from the nine germs it tracks. Young children were the most affected group for seven of the nine germs that FoodNet tracks.
Find the full 2013 CDC food safety progress report and infographic at http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2014/p0417-2013-foodborne-infections.html.
Story by Katie Allen, K-State Research and Extension
[email protected], 785-532-1162
In a unique joint appointment between Kansas State University and the University of Missouri, Londa Nwadike serves as state extension consumer food safety specialist for both Kansas and Missouri. She works with extension specialists and other stakeholders in both states to develop programming and resources in food safety, focusing on consumer issues.