COVID-19 pandemic: the CDC reported a reduction in the number of illnesses caused by food pathogens

Foodborne illnesses caused by food have not decreased for several years prior to 2020. According to new data published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) of CDC’s Emerging Infections Program detected that infections caused by pathogens transmitted frequently via food decreased by 26% in 2020 which represents the greatest single-year change in incidence in the 25 years of FoodNet monitoring.

According to the CDC’s report the extensive public health efforts to limit SARS-CoV-2 transmission may have contributed to this reduction. The findings were from ten locations that covered about 15% of the population of the United States. FoodNet monitored laboratory-diagnosed illnesses caused by Campylobacter, Cyclospora, Listeria, Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), Shigella, Vibrio, and Yersinia in a population-based monitoring program. FoodNet detected 18 462 infections, 4 788 hospitalizations, and 118 fatalities in 2020. Campylobacter had the greatest overall incidence, followed by Salmonella. Except for Yersinia and Cyclospora, the incidence of all pathogens was reduced. This indicates a substantial decrease in the number of cases of food poisoning and their frequency in 2020. Moreover, infections linked to foreign travel dropped significantly.    

It is clear that, public health measures aimed at preventing SARS-CoV-2 transmission are likely to have impacted gastrointestinal disease exposures, resulting in actual reductions in incidence. This could be seen from the lower numbers of illnesses linked to foreign travel. Nevertheless, according to the CDC continued monitoring may help researchers better understand how the pandemic impacted foodborne disease and develop preventive methods and measures that target specific pathogens and foods.