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Test EVERY Cow in the Food Chain

Test EVERY Cow in the Food Chain
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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Food Safety Flunks in the USA, CDC Report says

U.S. Food Safety No Longer Improving
Published: April 9, 2009
WASHINGTON — In the case of salmonella, the dangerous bacteria recently
found in peanuts and pistachios, infections may be creeping upward.
The report is likely to deepen tensions between the F.D.A. and the
Department of Agriculture, which have long been rivals in overseeing food
safety. An Agriculture Department campaign begun in 2006 to reduce
salmonella contamination of meat and poultry has been successful, the report
noted. But Dr. Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the C.D.C.’s division of
foodborne diseases, suggested that whatever progress the department had made
in improving overall food safety might have been lost by the F.D.A.
“Produce is a more important contributor to the overall problem than it used
to be,” said Dr. Tauxe, referring to spinach and other foods regulated by
the Food and Drug Administration.
The disease control centers’ report said that in 2008, 16 of every 100,000
people in the United States had laboratory-confirmed cases of salmonella
infections. That translates into about 48,000 serious illnesses, since
individual stool samples are generally sent to laboratories only when
someone is suffering a severe bout. In 2005, the figure was 14 people per
100,000, or about 42,000 cases of laboratory-confirmed salmonella infections

The apparent increase in salmonella is not statistically significant and
could be a statistical fluke, according to the disease control centers.
Indeed, across a range of a variety of foodborne illnesses, there has been
no statistically significant change over the past three years in the share
of the nation’s population that has been severely sickened by food.
Roughly 76 million people in the United States suffer foodborne illnesses
each year, 300,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 die, according to C.D.C.
estimates. Children younger than 4 are sickened by food more than those in
any other age group, but adults over age 50 suffer more hospitalizations and
death as a result of food-related infections.
Because food-related illnesses are so common, measuring whether food is
getting safer or more dangerous is critical to public health. But it is also
a daunting challenge.
The disease control agency uses three very different methods to routinely
track sickness caused by food. Of these, FoodNet — the one whose most recent
data were made public Thursday — is the most reliable, because government
epidemiologists routinely survey more than 650 clinical laboratories that
serve about 46 million people in 10 states. Such active surveillance tends
to be more accurate than other tools that rely on voluntary, and generally
spotty, reporting by doctors and hospitals.
Even so, FoodNet captures only a tiny slice of all those sickened by food.
For a case to be included in FoodNet, someone must become sick enough to see
a doctor, the doctor must be concerned or well trained enough to ask for and
get a stool sample, and the laboratory to which the doctor sends the sample
must be part of the government’s system.
Since 1996, when the system began, the burden of illness from campylobacter,
listeria, shigella, E. coli 0157 and Yersinia has decreased, although all of
that decrease occurred before 2004. There has been no statistically
significant change in the incidence of salmonella and cryptosporidium since
1996, and there has been a marked increase in cases of vibrio, a relatively
rare disease mostly associated with raw oysters.
There are unexplained variations in infection rates among the 10 states in
the FoodNet system. The incidence of campylobacter, for instance, is highest
in California, while salmonella infections are highest in New Mexico and
Georgia. Geographic differences in diet may be the cause, officials said.
Dr. Tim Jones, the state epidemiologist in Tennessee, said many of the easy
improvements in the nation’s food-safety system had already been made.
“You can only tell people so much to wash their cutting boards and wash
their hands,” Dr. Jones said. “I think we’re running out of things to do to
make dramatic improvements.”
Even as the government issued its report, the Texas Department of State
Health Services announced Thursday that it had assessed a $14.6 million fine
against a Texas plant owned by the Peanut Corporation of America, the
company involved in a national salmonella outbreak that sickened nearly 700
people. The fine resulted from violations that included unsanitary
conditions and product contamination. The plant was closed in February.

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