Instances of foodborne illnesses in certain areas of the U.S. remained relatively stagnant for at least the fifth consecutive year in 2011, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s FoodNet surveillance program.

In 2011, FoodNet identified nearly 19,000 infections, similar to the 19,129 it report for 2010. The most common cause in 2011 was salmonella at 7,763 cases in the surveillance areas. Except for 2010, which had 8,273 salmonella cases, 2011 had the highest incidence of salmonella infections since FoodNet began tracking data in 1996.

FoodNet data does not include breakouts of what kinds of foods caused illnesses.

FoodNet stats show little improvement in foodborne illnesses“One of the most striking things in the data is that salmonella is increasing,” said Michael Doyle, a former Food and Drug Administration adviser who now heads the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia.

“It’s likely we’re going to see even greater attention to reducing salmonella in foods.”

The CDC published the statistics with charts and graphs on the data on its website at http://tinyurl.com/report-CDC on July 27.

Barbara Mahon, of the CDC’s division of foodborne, waterborne and environmental diseases, suggests the public, regulatory staff and members of the food industry can find valuable supporting information in 18 reports published in Oxford Journals' Aug. 15 edition of “Clinical Infectious Diseases” magazine.

“Foodborne disease is an important public health problem in the U.S., with an estimated 9.4 million domestically acquired illnesses and 1,351 deaths from known pathogens each year,” Mahon wrote in an introduction to the 18 articles in the magazine.

Doyle said an interesting fact he gleaned from the magazine articles was that international travel and contact with pets each accounted for about 12% of the salmonella infections in 2011. He said the fact that about 24% of the salmonella infections in the U.S. are coming from sources unrelated to food is good news for the American food industry.

A recurring theme in the articles is the need for better, faster communication during outbreaks and better public education efforts, particularly with listeria.

“The lack of recent progress indicates that new industry and regulatory strategies and a renewed commitment to prevention will be necessary to reduce the incidence of listeriosis further,” Benjamin Silk, a former CDC intelligence officer and current lieutenant commander in the U.S. Public Health Service, wrote in one of the supplemental reports in the magazine.

Silk led the investigation into the 2011 listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupe from Jensen Farms, Holly, Colo. Ironically, the 2012 report does not include the total number of listeria cases from that outbreak.

FoodNet only collects statistics in the states of Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, and selected counties in California, Colorado, and New York. Consequently, the Foodnet stats show Colorado had 28 cases of listeria in 2011 while the CDC’s final report on the outbreak showed 40 cases because it includes numbers from the entire state.