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CDC: Risk of Food-borne Illness Shifts to New Pathogens

First, the good news: The risk of becoming seriously ill as a result of an infection from dangerous strains of E. coli or salmonella dropped sharply last year.

But the bad news: Food-borne illness arising from lesser-known infections is on the rise. Specifically of concern are bacteria such as Vibrio and Campylobacter.

That’s according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recently released its “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.” The agency notes food-borne disease represents a substantial and yet mostly preventable health burden on the U.S.

The Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (also known as FoodNet), monitors instances of food-related infections, as confirmed through laboratory test results.

In all of 2014, the agency identified:

  • 19,542 infections
  • 4,445 hospitalizations
  • 71 deaths

Our Orlando personal injury attorneys understand this only represents data as reported in 10 states that are part of this network. The actual number of food-related illness is far higher.

In total, the number of food-borne illnesses reported is about the same last year as it was eight years ago – and that was when an E coli outbreak sickened hundreds of people and resulted in at least three fatalities.

The CDC notes some progress has been made, and manufacturers and distributors of certain foods have become more proactive in preventing illness and reducing the chance of decontamination. However, for the most part, we aren’t seeing any substantial drop.

What remains the most common cause of food-related illness is the salmonella bacteria. It has an infection rate of 15.45 per 100,000 people. This particular pathogen is known to have numerous strains. Among the products in which its strains caused consumer sickness were:

  • Bean spourds
  • Raw cashew cheese
  • Chia powder
  • Cucumbers
  • Chicken

Strains were additionally identified among pet bearded dragon populations and among backyard chicken flocks.

The second-most common type of bacteria known to cause human illness in the U.S. last year was the lesser-known Campylobacter. This pathogen resulted in 13.45 infections for every 100,000 people. Among the products in which this pathogen was uncovered:

  • Raw milk (primarily in Utah and Wisconsin)
  • Oysters
  • Chicken livers

Meanwhile, the more well-known E coli resulted in less than 1 case per 100,000 individuals last year. That is a nearly 33 percent reduction since the last tracking period, which represents the single-largest drop for any pathogen for any previous year reported.

This was considered a key victory because ever since the outbreak eight years ago, which stemmed from tainted spinach, health officials have fought vigorously to reduce the number of E coli infections. Both the strain itself and a toxic byproduct it produces can make people very sick (bloody diarrhea and kidney failure) and can even result in death.

Because the disease is primarily found on leafy vegetables or in beef products, these industries both underwent a series of extensive procedural changes to limit contamination. Additionally, scientists began employing a process of rapid “DNA fingerprinting” of bacteria in order to pinpoint the source more quickly and stop outbreaks from spreading by recalling contaminated food much faster.

The other noteworthy progress was with a certain strain of salmonella that decreased by 27 percent in the last eight years. That effort has involved getting producers of poultry to inject chickens with a vaccine for the strain, as well as a number of other procedural changes. However, other strains of salmonella are on the rise.

Later this year, the FDA is slated to announce an updated set of rules for updated food safety procedures.

Whether those who are sickened by these diseases can recover damages will depend on the severity of illness as well as the strength of causation proof. We can help.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Preliminary Incidence of Trends of Infections with Pathogens Transmitted Commonly Through Food, May 15, 2015, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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