Foodborne Illnesses


The Yale School of Public Health Contributes to a National Report on Food Safety and Disease Outbreaks.  

Foodborne diseases remain a widespread—though largely preventable—public  health problem in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released its FoodNet report summarizing 2012 surveillance data of major foodborne pathogens commonly found in food. The report showed that two disease pathogens are on the rise while four others remain unchanged. The Emerging Infections Program (EIP) at the Yale School of Public Health contributed to the national report.

Despite widespread surveillance and educational efforts in Connecticut and beyond, food continues to be improperly stored, handled, prepared or cooked and, as a result, people continue to get sick with foodborne illnesses. 

FoodNet tracks infections caused by seven bacteria and two parasites capable of causing serious illnesses: Campylobacter, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli, Listeria, Salmonella, Shigella, Vibrio and Yersinia. In 2012, there were a total of 19,531 confirmed infections reported by FoodNet (believed to be a fraction of the total number) from the pathogens under surveillance. This resulted in 4,563 hospitalizations and 68 deaths. The report compared 2012 data to that of 2006-2008.

Among the reports main findings:

  • The incidence of Campylobacter infection was 14 percent higher. Campylobacter was the second most common infection reported in FoodNet in 2012 with 14.3 cases per 100,000 people.
  • Vibrio infection, though rare, increased 43 percent.
  • Salmonella was the most frequent infection, accounting for 40 percent of all reported infections. 
  • As a group, the incidence of infection by six key pathogens transmitted commonly through food was 22 percent lower in 2012 than in the first 3 years of surveillance (1996-1998), but was statistically unchanged from 2006–2008. 

“Most foodborne illness can be prevented. These findings underscore the important role of FoodNet in active foodborne disease surveillance and its role in helping to determine targeted action to address food safety,” said Sharon Hurd, Program Coordinator of Connecticut FoodNet at the Yale EIP. 

The CDC, meanwhile, has taken a number of steps to reduce foodborne illnesses, including the implementation of more stringent time and temperature controls for oysters after harvest, the creation of performance standards to reduce Campylobacter and the implementation of The Food Safety Modernization Act, which gives the FDA greater authority.

Connecticut FoodNet is one of 10 FoodNet programs located at EIP sites around the country that conduct active population-based laboratory surveillance for bacterial and parasitic pathogens. 

Students from the Yale School of Public Health and Yale College work with full-time EIP FoodNet staff to conduct interviews to collect data on cases of foodborne illness and to assist in foodborne disease outbreak investigations. The students are part of the recently created group known as Foodborne Diseases Centers for Outbreak Response Enhancement or FoodCORE.

“ The Yale EIP is a unique collaboration with the Connecticut Department of Public Health and CDC that allows Yale public health students to gain valuable experience working with state and national public health officials while still in school.  More 170 students have gained experience by working with us over the past 18 years and many  are now colleagues at either state or national public health agencies,” said James Meek, EIP’s associate director.

This article was submitted by Denise L Meyer on May 2, 2013.

Salmonella bacteria, pictured here enlarged 2,500 times, account for 40 percent of all reported foodborne infections.

Related People

Sharon Hurd

Project Coordinator, Connecticut FoodNet (Foodborne Disease Active Surveillance Network)

James I Meek

Associate Director, Yale Emerging Infections Program