This week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its annual report card on food safety which showed mixed results. On the positive side, Salmonella illnesses showed a nine percent decline in 2013 compared to the previous three years but Campylobacter infections were up 13 percent since 2006-2008. There was no change in E. coli infections. Total illnesses across all pathogens also remained unchanged in previous years.

The Salmonella numbers are encouraging, but one of the most interesting aspects of the report to us is the discrepancy between foodborne illness rates, which haven’t declined much and the pathogen detection rates we see in our meat and poultry plants which have shown significant decreases in recent years.

Based on USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) sampling data since 2000:

Much of these improvements are through industry’s efforts complementing the work of FSIS.  FSIS meat and poultry inspectors are present in U.S. meat packing plants and in poultry plants every day and are empowered to take action when problems occur.

For the last 15 years, the AMI Foundation’s Food Safety Initiative goal is to reduce and ultimately eradicate Listeria monocytogenes on ready-to-eat meat and poultry products, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli in fresh beef, and Salmonella in meat and poultry products.  During that time the Foundation has funded $8.6 million in food safety research projects aimed at identifying practical food safety strategies.   In 2000, the AMI Board of Directors voted to make food safety a non-competitive issue, a vote that ushered in a new era of information exchange and collaborative problem solving.  AMI Foundation peer-taught workshops, such as the Advanced Listeria monocytogenes Intervention & Control Workshop, have trained thousands of industry members.   These efforts have all contributed to the production of safer meat and poultry products.

More Work to Be Done

Despite all the improvements in detection rates in the meat and poultry industry, the CDC data show there’s much more work to be done to bridge the gap between the unchanged illness rates and decreased level of pathogens observed in meat and poultry plants. This is best accomplished through industry and government continuing to work together in a comprehensive effort to determine the risks of foodborne illness in all foods. The efforts of industry and government together have yielded real and measurable benefits for America’s public health with significant reductions in Listeria and E. coli illnesses over the years as prime examples. We can continue to improve with further research into the relationships between pathogen reductions and foodborne illness rates so the next CDC report card shows positive trends across all pathogens.

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