Food poisoning is down slightly, according to the CDC. But experts say it’s still a problem.


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Food poisoning cases were down slightly in 2021 compared to pre-pandemic years, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But it’s not a cause for celebration, said food safety experts, who primarily attribute the decline to disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is not enough evidence to give the (food) industry a resounding endorsement,” said Thomas Gremillion, director of food policy for the Consumer Federation of America, a nonprofit organization that promotes consumer interests.

Overall, the Foodborne Illness Active Surveillance Network found 8% fewer cases of foodborne illness in 2021 compared to the average between 2016 and 2018, according to the study published Thursday in the agency’s journal. Weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report. The researchers identified more than 22,000 infections, including more than 5,300 hospitalizations and 153 deaths in 2021.

The overall drop was mainly due to a decline in salmonella infections, said lead author Dr. Jennifer Collins, a CDC medical epidemiologist.

“Salmonella is one of the most common infections we find in 2021, which is typical of food,” he said. “Because it’s so common, the drop accounted for most of the overall decline.”

Salmonella infections are attributed to poultry and agricultural products, with a rate of 14.2 cases per 100,000 population in 2021. The report showed that Campylobacter, which is commonly attributed to chicken products, was identified in 17.8 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

While salmonella incidences decreased, those of other pathogens increased or remained the same in 2021 compared to 2016-2018. Campylobacter, listeria, and shigella cases remained constant while cyclospora, vibrio, and yersinia cases increased.

“We know how to reduce the burden of foodborne illness and we know the policies we need to take to do it and we haven’t done it yet,” Gremillion said. “If we had the policies that we needed… we would see a very steep decline across the board.”

The study authors say the COVID-19 pandemic may have played a role in the slight decline in foodborne illness by curbing travel and eating out. According to the report, about 7% of infections were related to international travel compared to 13% in 2016-2018.

The coronavirus may also have disrupted surveillance efforts, as people who wanted to avoid health care facilities during the pandemic did not seek care or use telemedicine services for their foodborne illnesses, Collins said.

“Our FoodNet data reflects laboratory diagnoses,” he said. “We can’t get infections if stool samples aren’t sent in.”

Food poisoning usually causes mild symptoms, such as cramps, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, said Dr. Christine Lee, a gastroenterologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Most patients recover within one to two weeks with supportive therapy.

But some immunocompromised people can develop life-threatening conditions. He said it’s important to seek medical attention if symptoms worsen, including dizziness, bloody diarrhea and an inability to tolerate food and fluids.

Although consumers can reduce their risk by washing produce and cooking meats thoroughly, food safety experts say industry leaders and regulatory officials can make the biggest difference in preventing food poisoning.

“Improved prevention efforts are needed to address the root cause of foodborne illness, which includes contamination on farms and in processing facilities, to make food as safe as possible for consumers,” Collins said. .

Incidence of enteric pathogen infections above or stable

More information:
Weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report

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