E. Coli Levels Drop, but Food Contamination Concerns Linger

Article excerpt

Highlighting the need for new food safety strategies, federal health officials recently reported a drop in E. coli levels along with a lag in progress addressing salmonella contamination and other food-borne illnesses.

The rate of a severe form of E. coli dropped significantly in 2009 and reached the lowest level since 2004, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study. Infection with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli is of particular concern because in 5 percent to 10 percent of cases, the infection causes kidney failure and can be especially dangerous for children and the elderly.

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The study, released in mid-April, found that in 2009 most of the nine illnesses tracked through the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, or FoodNet, sustained declines since tracking started in 1996, but most have shown little change since 2004.

"We haven't seen much recent progress," said Chris Braden, MD, acting director of CDC's Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environment Diseases. "To make additional strides against these diseases and ultimately better protect the American people from foodborne illness, CDC, our federal and state partners and the food industry will need to try new strategies."

Despite the progress, illnesses still continue to occur. In May, federal and state health officials were tracking a multistate E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce.

The April CDC study noted a total of almost 17,500 laboratory-confirmed cases of food-borne infection in 2009, with the most common being salmonella, campylobacter, shigella, cryptosporidium, vibrio and listeria. Among the four pathogens tracked in FoodNet that have national reduction goals, salmonella is furthest from meeting that goal. …