Scripps Howard News Service reports that accelerated testing of the meat supply may have caused a significant decline in rates of E. coli infections, but there is still very slow progress against contamination by drug-resistant strains of salmonella. There is also an increasing rate of contamination of shellfish – mainly raw oysters – from a bacterium called vibrio that can be lethal to people with chronic liver problems.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year detected salmonella infections at the rate of 14.7 cases per 100,000 people – more than double the government’s “healthy people” goal. There were similarly high rates of salmonella infections from 2000 to 2003.
Robert Tauxe, chief of the foodborne-disease unit at the CDC in averting outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7, a particularly virulent strain of the common pathogen that can attack the kidneys of young children and has killed some.
Jim Hodges, president of the American Meat Institute Foundation, said that there has been a decline of salmonella in ground beef, but that contamination in poultry remains a problem.
The U.S. poultry industry produces about 9 billion birds a year, mainly chicken. U.S. Agriculture Department statistics indicate that about 12 percent of chickens were positive for salmonella in 2001, 11 percent in 2002, and 13 percent in 2003.
Researchers say one reason why outbreaks of food poisoning continue to be a problem is that people aren’t heeding government food-safety warnings, such as avoiding alfalfa sprouts or heating deli meats before eating them.