The number of people sickened by pathogens in contaminated food grew last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Thursday in its summary of 2012 public health data documenting foodborne illness in the United States.
According to data from the CDC’s FoodNet surveillance system, cases of foodborne infection went up 3 percent in 2012 from the year before. The CDC attributes this escalation in food-related illnesses partly to a surge in the number of illnesses from the Vibrio bacteria found in undercooked shellfish and raw oysters. Records show that those illnesses were up 25 percent, but government officials have not yet determined what is causing the spike in shellfish illnesses. When 2012 numbers are compared to the CDC’s 2006-2008 baseline set, Vibrio infections climbed 43 percent.
People exposed to Vibrio bacteria develop an illness similar to cholera, with symptoms that include abdominal cramps, headache, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and fever. Large outbreaks of Vibrio poisoning from oysters were reported in Washington State; Massachusetts; Nassau County, New York; and Missouri in 2012.
Illnesses from eating undercooked poultry or cross-contaminated food containing Campylobacter bacteria neither rose nor fell from 2011 to 2012. Compared to 2006 to 2008, however, Campylobacter-related illnesses spiked 14 percent. The bacteria, which is second only to Salmonella bacteria in the number of food-related illnesses it causes, can cause abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and fever for several days.
Ironically, it was the growing number of food recalls and outbreaks of food poisoning that triggered passage of the 2011 Food Modernization Act, the most sweeping reform of food safety laws in nearly a century. The new laws broadened the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) authority to establish safety standards for produce, regulate food processing facilities, recall contaminated food, and oversee imported food. It also calls on the CDC for better surveillance and response to outbreaks.
“More can be done,” the CDC said in its report on the escalating illnesses. “Determining where to target prevention efforts that will reduce foodborne infections requires continued collection of information to understand sources of infection, implementation of measures known to reduce food contamination, and development of new measures.”