The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday released its annual FoodNet report titled “Preliminary Incidence and Trends of Infections with Pathogens Transmitted Commonly Through Food — FoodNet, 10 U.S. Sites, 2015–2018.” The report summarizes preliminary 2018 data on eight pathogens spread through food, including changes in incidence since 2015. It also describes a need for continued improvements in both food safety and laboratory practices.  The report is published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

The report notes:

  • The number of human infections caused by Campylobacter and Salmonella is increasing though the authors admit that it could be due, in part, to the increased use of culture-independent diagnostic tests (CIDT).  Campylobacter has been the most commonly identified infection in FoodNet since 2013 with poultry being a major source of Campylobacter. 
  • The incidence of infection is highest for Campylobacter (19.5 cases/100,000 people followed by Salmonella (18.3 cases/100,000 people) though the rate of this increase is lowest for Campylobacter and Salmonella when comparing 2018 rates to the rates from 2015-2017.
  • For serotyped Salmonella isolates, the most common was Enteriditis (2.6/100,000 people) followed by Newport (1.6/100,000 people) and Typhimurium (1.5/100,000 people) which is relatively unchanged from 2015-2017.
    • Salmonella Enteriditis has not declined over the last 10 years, according to the report, however, Salmonella Typhimurium has been declining.
  • More targeted prevention measures are needed for food producing animals and in meat and poultry processing establishments to improve food safety and decrease human illness.
  • The authors suggest that measures to decrease foodborne illnesses may include enhanced efforts targeting Campylobacter contamination of chicken; strengthening prevention measures during egg production, especially within small flocks; and vaccinating poultry against Salmonella Enteritidis.
  • The authors do highlight several limitations of the data including changes in diagnostics, increases in reporting, CIDT tests providing false positives, and year to year variations may not indicate sustained trends.

In response to the report, NCC spokesperson Tom Super said, “Americans eat about 160 million servings of chicken every day, and virtually all of them are eaten safely.  We take the safety of chicken very seriously – our families eat the same chicken as everybody else and we have thousands of men and women in this industry who have dedicated their careers to making our food the safest on the planet.”

Salmonella prevalence has declined over the past several years, both on whole carcasses and chicken parts. According to the most current FSIS data released on April 22, more than 86% of the industry is meeting the FSIS performance standard for Salmonella on whole broiler carcasses, and more than 77% of broiler establishments are meeting the FSIS performance standard for Salmonella on chicken parts.

“We appreciate the agency taking a scientific approach to the Campylobacter standard they are currently revising and we will continue to work with FSIS, our members and food safety experts to help chicken companies meet the new standard once set, as we did with the new parts performance standard a few years ago,” Super added.

“Though we’ve made tremendous progress in reducing pathogens to all-time lows, the fact is any raw agricultural product, whether it is beef, beans, produce or poultry might contain bacteria that could make someone sick if improperly handled or cooked,” he continued.  “All chicken is safe to eat when properly handled and cooked, which means washing hands before and after contact with raw chicken, not cross contaminating surfaces in your kitchen, and cooking chicken to 165 degrees F.”

About FoodNet

FoodNet collects information to track and determine trends in laboratory-diagnosed illnesses caused by eight pathogens transmitted commonly through food: Campylobacter, Cyclospora, Listeria, Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli, Shigella, Vibrio, and Yersinia. Each year, FoodNet publishes a report which includes annual data (2018 for this report) compared with data from previous years. Since 2010, FoodNet has been tracking the increasing use of culture-independent diagnostic tests in the diagnosis of enteric infections.

FoodNet is a collaboration among CDC, 10 state health departments, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, and FDA. FoodNet covers 48 million people, encompassing about 15 percent of the United States population. FoodNet sites are the states of Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, and Tennessee, and selected counties in California, Colorado, and New York. FoodNet is the principal foodborne disease component of CDC’s Emerging Infections Program.