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Food poisoning from raw shellfish on the rise reports CDC

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On April 18, in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that an increase in cases of food poisoning from raw shellfish has occurred. On a brighter note, cases of food poisoning from salmonella has dropped. A limitation of the study is that cases were counted in only 10 states; however, the CDC believes that it is a reliable indicator of food poisoning cases throughout the nation. In addition, California was one of the states evaluated in the report.

The report notes that foodborne illnesses continue to be a major healthcare problem in the United States. It asserts that most cases of food poisoning are preventable. The Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) monitors the incidence of laboratory-confirmed infections caused by nine infectious organisms transmitted commonly through food in 10 US sites. These states encompass approximately 15% of the nation’s population; thus, they evaluate progress toward prevention.

Since 2006, the Foodnet report has summarized trends in foodborne illnesses. The latest report presents preliminary 2013. In 2013, a total of 19,056 infections, 4,200 hospitalizations, and 80 deaths were reported. For most infections, the incidence was significantly above national Healthy People 2020 incidence targets and highest among children under five years of age. Compared with 2010–2012, the estimated incidence of infection in 2013 was lower for salmonella, higher for vibrio, and unchanged overall. Overall, no significant change has occurred in the incidence of food poisoning since 2006–2008, the overall incidence has not changed significantly.

In 2013, the incidence of vibrio infections was the highest observed in FoodNet to date; however, the rate is still well below that of salmonella infections. Vibrio infections are most common during warmer months, when waters contain more of the bacteria. Many infections are due to contact with seawater; however, approximately 50% of infections acquired in the US are transmitted through food, most commonly oysters. The CDC notes that food poisoning can be prevented by postharvest treatment of oysters with heat, freezing, or high pressure. It also can be prevented by thorough cooking, or by not eating oysters during warmer months. During the summers of 2012 and 2013, a number of Vibrio parahaemolyticus infections from a strain previously traced only to the Pacific Northwest were found to be related to the consumption of oysters and other shellfish from several Atlantic Coast harvest areas. Vibrio alginolyticus infections were the second most common vibrio reported to FoodNet in 2013. It typically causes wound and soft-tissue infections among individuals who have contact with water

The CDC report notes that efforts to reduce foodborne illnesses should be increased. For this to occur, actions targeted to sources and pathogens, such as continued use of salmonella poultry performance standards and actions mandated by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), need to be promoted.

Take home message:

You cannot control the risk of food poisoning at restaurants beyond patronizing restaurants that have a good reputation. Even in those establishments, foods such as raw oysters can be contaminated, particularly in the warmer months. You have more control over food prepared at home. Meticulously wash and clean food, and cook meat, poultry and eggs thoroughly. Avoid raw milk and unpasteurized juices. Leftovers should be promptly refrigerated. A government report released last year reviewed cases of foodborne illnesses over the last decade. It noted that leafy greens such as lettuce and spinach were the leading source of food poisoning; in addition, it noted that produce in general accounted for almost half of all cases of food poisoning. Slightly more deaths were attributed to poultry than to vegetables in the decade studied.