The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says there has been a sustained decline in the incidence of infection caused by several foodborne pathogens including Yersinia, Listeria, Campylobacter, and Salmonella in the past six years. “These declines in infections caused by these foodborne pathogens represent important progress toward national health objectives that are set for 2010,” said Dr. Robert Tauxe of the CDC’s Foodborne Division during a briefing held in April. “We do not think that these declines are related to a change in the way laboratories work or change in the way the medical system works. We think they represent a real decrease in the actual numbers of these infections.”

Tauxe believes that there are a number of factors helping the decline. “Among them is a change in the way that food safety in meat slaughter, animal slaughter and processing is managed,” he explained. In 1997 the Department of Agriculture began implementing a new pathogen-reduction strategy for regulating meat and poultry slaughter and processing plants, and these declines in Yersinia, Listeria, Campylobacter and Salmonella are happening at the same time, Tauxe said.

However, Tauxe cautioned that not all infections are decreasing. “We have not observed a sustained decline in E. coli O157. And some strains of Salmonella are actually increasing, while others are going down.”

Dr. Merle Pierson, deputy undersecretary of food safety for the USDA, said that HACCP implementations have driven down the prevalence of Salmonella. “We are strongly encouraging specific interventions for raw meat and poultry in order to further reduce the level and incidence of pathogens such as Salmonella in these products. We feel that there is a whole arsenal of potentially effective interventions that could be utilized.”

For a transcript of this briefing, call the CDC at 404-639-3286.