Your Food Is Pretty Safe, But it’s Not Getting Safer

In a world where journalism was free of hype the above headline would have been atop the many stories this week relating to a press release by the CDC about food-borne illness.  The numbers are far less sensational than the headlines.

The CDC report reviewed statistics about food-borne illnesses in 2009.  Overall there were 17,468 laboratory-confirmed food-borne infections in 2009.  What the CDC press release doesn’t mention is that this number has stayed about the same for several years.  (It was 17,883 in 2007.)  But rather than putting out a press release that declares “We’re Doing About the Same!” they focused on the bacteria that seem to have caused fewer infections this year, like a toxic strain of E. coli.  (See the link below.)

The bottom line is that you’re about twice as likely to die in a car accident in the US than to get sick from contaminated food.  (There were 39,800 fatalities related to motor vehicles in 2008.)  The CDC may in fact deserve some credit for that.

But the last several years suggest that the easy improvements have already been made and that further progress will be more difficult and incremental.  The bacteria, after all, will continue doing their best to contaminate our food.

Learn more:

CDC Press Release:  CDC Report Shows Success in Fighting E. coli O157:H7

Wall Street Journal article:  E. Coli Infections Dropped Last Year

Reuters article:  U.S. sees big drop in 6 food poisoning bugs: CDC

LA Times Booster Shots:  Early signs of progress against E. coli and shigella, but listeria, salmonella …?

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