Bacteria Campylobacter and Salmonella led bacterial foodborne illnesses
Salmonella Typhimurium infections, often linked to beef and poultry, decreased 18 percent in 2016 compared with the average for 2013-2015. The continuing decreases in Salmonella Typhimurium may be due to regulatory action to reduce Salmonella contamination in poultry and vaccination of chicken flocks by producers. Reported Yersinia, Cryptosporidium, and Shiga toxin-producing E.coli infections increased. These increases are likely due to newly available rapid tests that make infections easier to diagnose, rather than to a true increase in illness.
The new data reflect the increasing popularity of rapid tests known as culture-independent diagnostic tests, or CIDTs. These faster tests can have immediate benefits for treatment, but do not collect information needed to determine if an infection is antibiotic-resistant or if it is linked to an outbreak. Positive results on rapid tests can be followed up by culture-based tests to get detailed data, but often are not, according to the report.
Foodborne illness remains a substantial public health concern in the United States. Previous analyses have indicated that the number of infections far exceeds those diagnosed; CIDTs might be making those infections more visible. However, the shift to CIDTs poses challenges to monitoring foodborne illness trends because changes in the number of new infections could reflect changes in testing practices rather than a true increase in infections. For this reason, comparisons of the 2016 data with data from previous years may not accurately reflect trends. Estimated infections this year and in years past are accurate, but cannot be directly compared because the total now includes results from diagnostic tests. FoodNet is developing new tools that will allow it to continue to track the needed progress toward reducing foodborne illness.
In 2016, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) finalized new performance standards for reducing harmful bacteria in chicken parts and ground poultry. FSIS expects these actions could prevent as many as 50,000 illnesses each year caused by Salmonella and Campylobacter in chicken and turkey products.