Marilynn Marchione, a medical writer for the Associated Press, reports that despite the recent E. coli spinach outbreak, food may be safer now than at any other time in the last decade, with illness occurring at record-low rates, new federal statistics show.
Consumers get part of the credit, for handling food more safely at home, but experts say the biggest improvement came from better industry controls and inspections.
However, the trend could reverse in coming years if fruit and vegetable growers do not address problems like those that led to the spinach scare.
On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration lifted its warning on spinach except for specific brands packaged on certain dates. Consumers should continue to avoid spinach recalled by Natural Selection Foods LLC of San Juan Bautista and four companies that it supplied.
The recall covered 34 brands bearing "Best if Used By" dates of Aug. 17 through Oct. 1, so most of it is thought to be out of the food supply now.
The spinach sickened 187 people in 26 states, hospitalized 97 of them and killed one. Outbreaks typically are far larger than the number of lab-confirmed cases reported to federal officials.
Germs in food make 76 million Americans sick, send 323,000 to hospitals and kill 5,000 each year, the CDC estimates.
But the situation greatly improved over the last decade, according to illness statistics the agency reported Friday at a conference of the American Society for Microbiology.
In 2005, compared with the 1996-98 period when the CDC’s FoodNet tracking system began, illnesses were down for virtually every major germ.
CDC estimates the declines as follows: yersinia, 49 percent; shigella, 43 percent; listeria, 32 percent; campylobacter, 30 percent; the dangerous O157 strain of E. coli, 29 percent; and salmonella, 9 percent.