Food Safety Regulators To Focus on Trends In Foodborne Illnesses and Campylobacter in Coming Year: Report

Food poisoning sickens 48 million Americans every year, and kills an average of 3,000.

A collaborative group involving several U.S. food and health agencies has announced that it intends to focus on addressing risks associated with certain foods that tend to lead to major food poisoning outbreaks, particularly involving campylobacter, as well as increasing its investigations into sporadic illnesses that are not linked to major outbreaks.

The Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration (IFSAC) is a partnership between the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS). The group published an interim strategic plan for 2022 and 2023 (PDF) on January 14, which details its priorities for investigations into foodborne illness and tracking data over the next two calendar years.

The IFSAC was founded by the three regulatory agencies in 2011, with a goal of improving coordination between the agencies on food safety analytic efforts and food safety data collection. It focuses on identifying which foods have safety issues that result in major foodborne illnesses and publishes annual estimates for salmonella, e. coli, Listeria and campylobacter illnesses in the U.S.

Food poisoning impacts an estimated 48 million Americans annually, resulting in an average of nearly 130,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 fatalities, according to the CDC. These outbreaks sicken on average one out of every six Americans and cost about 15.6 billion each year.

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In this latest report, IFSAC indicates that throughout 2022 and 2023, it will place more emphasis on collecting data and estimating the sources of sporadic illnesses, in addition to its ongoing data collection on major food poisoning outbreaks.

The IFSAC says it always focuses on estimating sources of both outbreak-associated and non-outbreak related illnesses, but prior strategic plans have largely used data from foodborne illness outbreaks. The new plan will include information from illnesses that do not stem from outbreaks.

In addition, the group will also look more closely at campylobacter outbreaks, which have traditionally been harder to track.

“In this interim period, we will continue to evaluate our approach to attributing Campylobacter illnesses to specific food categories,” the report states. “Our recent reports have highlighted the challenges associated with attributing Campylobacter illnesses to foods based on outbreak data, due to the outsized influence of outbreaks from foods not widely consumed, but with a high risk of illness, such as unpasteurized milk and chicken livers.”

Campylobacter are a group of germs which normally inhabit the intestinal tract of warm-blooded animals such as poultry and cattle, and are frequently detected in foods derived from these animals. The bacteria are a common cause of food poisoning, and one of the most common causes of diarrhea nationwide.

Symptoms include cramping, vomiting, severe diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain and fever within two to five days after exposure, which typically last for seven to ten days.

The most common source is undercooked poultry, but it can also be contracted through water and direct contact with animals. The CDC estimates Campylobacter infections affect 1.5 million US residents every year.

In coming years, the IFSAC says it will also focus on assessing key food sources for sporadic illnesses and developing case-control studies using specific FoodNet data. Additionally, the agency will focus on attempting to predict food sources of illnesses that have an unknown source.

“Federal agencies and food safety experts rely on these attribution analyses to inform strategic planning and risk-based decision-making; estimate benefits of interventions; and evaluate the impact of interventions, such as new or revised regulations, policies, and performance standards,” wrote agency officials. “By bringing together data from a variety of sources, broadly exploring an array of methods and disciplines, and developing sound analytical methods, IFSAC scientists can improve estimates of the sources of foodborne illness.”

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