2 Foodborne Illnesses Rose in 2013, CDC Finds

Raw meat sits on a cutting board.
(Image credit: Raw meat photo via Shutterstock)

Rates of some foodborne infections rose in the U.S. in 2013, according to a new report that calls for more work to reduce illnesses from eating contaminated food.

Last year, the percentage of people sickened with Vibrio bacteria, which can contaminate shellfish, was 32 percent higher than in the previous three years, bringing the rate of infection with this bacteria to its highest levels since 1996, according to the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The rate of infection with the foodborne bacteria Campylobacter, often linked with chicken and unpasteurized dairy products, increased by 13 percent in 2013, compared to the 2006-2008 period.

Rates of infection with several other important foodborne pathogens, including the strain of Escherichia coli bacteria that produces the shiga toxin, remained unchanged. But some progress was made in reducing Salmonella infections, which decreased 9 percent in 2013 compared with the previous three years. [Top 7 Germs in Food that Make You Sick]

"Some improvements were made, but substantially more work is needed," Dr. Robert Tauxe, deputy director of CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases, said today (April 17) at a news conference about the findings. The report "reminds us of the human health impact these diseases have."

The researchers collected information about infections from nine foodborne pathogens at 10 sites around the United States, representing about 15 percent of the U.S. population.

Salmonella infections were the most common, with about 15 cases per 100,000 people, followed by Campylobacter infections, with a rate of 14 cases per 100,000 people. Although infections with Vibrio bacteria are increasing, they remain less common, at about five cases per 1 million people.

For most germs, rates of infection were highest for children under 5, or adults 65 and over.

Plans to develop new performance standards for cut-up chicken parts (such as a limit on the percentage of samples that can test positive for Salmonella), and new strategies for poultry inspections, are in the works, said David Goldman, assistant administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

The Food and Drug Administration is also working to better understand the sources of Vibrio infections, including which seafood harvest areas and circumstances are most commonly associated with illness, so that more can be done to ensure the safety of these products, said Dr. Stephen Ostroff, the FDA's acting chief scientist.

Consumers can take steps to reduce their risk of foodborne illness by following food safety tips, such as washing their hands before preparing food and after handling uncooked eggs and raw meat, properly cleaning surfaces and utensils, and making sure foods are properly cooked.

The report will be published April 18 in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.