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Early signs of progress against E. coli and shigella, but listeria, salmonella ...?

April 15, 2010 |  6:34 pm

Food Food-borne illnesses are proving to be stubborn -- unsurprisingly so, perhaps -- but that's not to say there aren't some small bright spots in the latest report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2009, the federal government had especially hoped to reduce incidence of four food-borne diseases -- campylobacter, listeria, salmonella and E. coli O157. Of those four, gains were made only against the E. coli strain.

Shigella wasn't on the most-wanted list, but it took a hit too. Hey, a bonus.

The data are preliminary, based on disease surveillance in 10 states (including California), but they do offer a snapshot of where we stand, at least in relation to food-borne threats.

Want some numbers from the report? Here's a taste:

In 2009, a total of 17,468 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection were identified. The number of reported infections and incidence per 100,000 population, by pathogen, were as follows: Salmonella (7,039; 15.19), Campylobacter (6,033; 13.02), Shigella (1,849; 3.99), Cryptosporidium (1,325; 2.86), STEC O157 (459; 0.99), STEC non-O157 (264; 0.57), Vibrio (160; 0.35), Listeria (158; 0.34), Yersinia (150; 0.32), and Cyclospora (31; 0.07).

For a more thorough picture, you'll need comparison numbers. You can head over to the full food-borne diseases report at the CDC site. That report, "Preliminary FoodNet Data on the Incidence of Infection with Pathogens Transmitted Commonly Through Food --- 10 States, 2009," was released Thursday in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Those who feel reassured by the numbers above probably weren't among the 15.19 out of 100,000 diagnosed with salmonella.

Here's general information on food-borne illnesses from the CDC, plus an L.A. Times article, The science of salmonella, that illustrates the difficulties of combating these tiny, sometimes deadly, foes. It begins:

This is salmonella's world. We're just living in it.

The bacterium appeared on the planet millions of years before humans, and scientists are certain it will outlast us too. It's practically guaranteed that salmonella will keep finding its way into the food supply despite the best efforts of producers and regulators.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Wash the produce thoroughly, cook the meat thoroughly -- and don't cross-contaminate during preparation. Oh, and be sure to chill the leftovers. All good advice, all from the CDC at the above link.

Credit: Associated Press