However, the CDC’s latest Vital Signs report, which documents foodborne illness outbreaks in 2010, was not all bad news; cases of E. coli O157:H7 have been nearly halved and the rates of six foodborne infections are down by 23 percent, the report said.
About one million salmonella cases each year are caused by food consumed in the United States, with an associated direct medical costs are about $365m a year. The CDC said salmonella is particularly difficult to address because it can contaminate such a diverse range of foods, including eggs, meat, produce and processed foods, so tracing the source of an outbreak can be challenging.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) deputy commissioner for foods Michael Taylor said: "The recently enacted Food Safety Modernization Act wisely mandates a comprehensive approach to preventing illnesses from many types of Salmonella and a wide range of other contaminants that can make people sick. The current outbreak of E. coli in Europe demonstrates the importance of the new law, and FDA is committed to implementing the new law as fully as possible within available resources."
E. coli declines
The decline in the number of E. coli cases, from 2 cases per 100,000 people in 1997 to 0.9 cases per 100,000 people in 2010, was credited to improved detection and investigation of outbreaks through CDC's PulseNet surveillance system, cleaner slaughter methods, testing of ground beef for E. coli, better inspections of ground beef processing plants, regulatory improvements and increased awareness of the importance of properly cooking beef – efforts that have been led by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Undersecretary for food safety at the USDA Elisabeth Hagen said: "Thanks to our prevention based approach to food safety, as well as industry and consumer efforts, we have substantially reduced E. coli O157 illnesses. This report demonstrates that we've made great progress. However, far too many people still get sick from the food they eat, so we have more work to do.”
The CDC estimates that 48m Americans get sick as a result of foodborne illness each year, of whom about 3,000 die.