New CDC Data Show Alarming Increase in Shellfish-borne Vibrio Infections

April 17, 2014

New data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show mixed results for government agencies tasked with controlling foodborne illness. Reported cases of food poisoning are mostly holding steady, according to CDC, and at rates that do not meet government standards for protecting public health. Additionally, new rapid diagnostic tests may create hurdles for CDC to identify outbreaks in the future.

"It is critically important that CDC develop a plan to address the increasing use of diagnostic tests that don't use lab cultures," said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. "Otherwise the trend of declining reporting of outbreaks may continueŚnot because fewer people are getting sick, but because state health departments and CDC cannot track the outbreaks."

The biggest increases in illnesses reported by CDC involved Vibrio bacteria, which live in ocean waters where they can contaminate shellfish, which when eaten raw or undercooked can cause potentially life-threatening infections in people.

"While the Food and Drug Administration and the shellfish industry have relied for decades on consumers to heed periodic warnings and consumer advisories, CDC's data show beyond a shadow of a doubt that these efforts are not working," said CSPI senior food safety attorney David Plunkett. "The real tragedy is that for years the shellfish industry has fought off steps to protect their customers. These illnesses can be reduced or eliminated through strategic closures of harvest waters and pasteurization of shellfish harvested during periods of high risk. Unfortunately, state regulators in harvesting states like Louisiana and Texas and the politically potent shellfish industry continue to collaborate through the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference to block FDA from mandating meaningful preventive measures."

CSPI says that the riskiest shellfish are harvested during the summer months when the waters are warmest, and that consumers should avoid eating raw oysters and clams during these months. People with liver disease, AIDS, hemochromatosis, or a compromised immune system should avoid eating raw shellfish at all times.

CSPI publishes an annual Outbreak Alert! report which also tracks trends in outbreak reporting.


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