Foodborne illnesses in US return to pre-pandemic levels

Illnesses linked to foodborne pathogens have returned to pre-COVID-19 levels after declining during the first 2 years of the pandemic, according to a new study from the US Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC).

“This report highlights lack of progress in reducing enteric infection incidence,” Dr Miranda Delahoy, senior epidemiologist in the CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases, and colleagues wrote in the study, which was published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

According to the CDC, an estimated 48 million people in the US are sickened by a foodborne pathogen annually, with 128,000 being hospitalised and 3,000 dying from the infections. These infections are caused by everything from leafy greens to sick food workers.

Delahoy and colleagues summarised data from the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) on infections caused by eight pathogens — mostly bacterial — at 10 sites in the US. The review identified 25,479 cases, 5,981 hospitalisations and 170 deaths from foodborne pathogens in 2022 at the 10 sites.

Campylobacter was the most common cause of illness, followed by Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), STEC 0157, STEC other than 0157, Shigella, Yersinia, Vibrio, Listeria and Cyclospora.

The researchers found that rates of Campylobacter, Salmonella, Shigella and Listeria illnesses in 2022 returned to 2016-2018 levels, whereas rates of STEC, Yersinia, Vibrio and Cyclospora increased compared with 2016-2018 rates.

Poultry meat has long been the most commonly identified source of Campylobacter in many countries, the researchers wrote, and also is considered the most common source of Salmonella in the United States.

In the case of norovirus, researchers said it was likely that social distancing, mask wearing, increased hand hygiene and other infection prevention methods prevented spread of the pathogen.

Delahoy and colleagues said the increase in some foodborne illnesses over pre-pandemic levels show there has not been progress in reaching Healthy People 2030 targets, which call for reducing enteric infections and improving food handling.

“Better understanding of reasons for decreased incidence of foodborne infections during the COVID-19 pandemic (2020-2021) that were not sustained during 2022 could help guide the creation of additional mitigation strategies,” they wrote.