Salmonella-related food poisoning declined in 2013 while other common pathogens that taint beef, poultry and other fare continued to turn up in the U.S. food supply, federal health officials said Thursday.
Deadly bacteria-laced cantaloupe made headlines last year, along with chicken and seafood colonized by pathogens.
A concern, a key health official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday, is that some of the organisms are antibiotic resistant.
Resistant strains can be passed to food preparers and those who consume the meal.
Basing their assessment on surveillance data from New York and nine other states, CDC researchers found that 19,056 people nationwide were infected by tainted food, 4,200 were hospitalized and 80 died.
"I am really not surprised by this report," said Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. "Even though salmonella is down, vibrio infections are up and that's concerning."
Vibrio organisms are microscopic comma-shaped bacteria that invade shellfish, mainly oysters and other mollusks, said Dr. Robert Tauxe, the CDC's deputy director of foodborne, waterborne and environmental diseases.
"For vibrio it has been a story of pretty consistent increase," Tauxe said, noting a 75 percent jump in illnesses caused by the bacteria in recent years. A vibrio strain once seen in shellfish indigenous to the Pacific Northwest, he underscored, is now turning up in those caught along the Eastern Seaboard.
But among the 19,056 foodborne illnesses, vibrio caused only 242 cases despite its rising prevalence, according to the CDC's analysis on foodborne illnesses, outlined in Friday's issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Although salmonella cases declined by 9 percent in 2013 compared with the previous year, Tauxe said, it is still the foodborne pathogen most likely to cause illnesses.
An estimated 7,300 people were infected with salmonella last year, researchers found.
Other leading infectious agents in the food supply included the usual rogue's gallery: E. coli, listeria, shigella and campylobacter topping the list. After salmonella-related infections, campylobacteria, a notorious contaminant of chicken, caused 6,600 illnesses.
Chicken -- whole and cut into parts -- remained a major source of illness, experts said.
Dr. David Goldman, an administrator in the Office of Public Health Science at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said new standards are being devised to improve poultry safety.
He said plans are in the works to modernize poultry inspection, and new standards have been designed to oversee cut-up poultry parts.
Salmonella and campylobacteria are common on retail poultry; E. coli also has been found to be present on packaged chickens, some studies have found.
"We have a salmonella action plan and we also will address campylobacter," Goldman said of his agency's evolving poultry standards.
Goldman emphasized Thursday, however, that the U.S. food supply is not only safe, it is one of the safest in the world.
Dr. Stephen Ostroff of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said 2010 federal legislation, designed to bolster the safety of the nation's food supply, has put measures in place to prevent food-related outbreaks.
"We are making significant progress in implementing the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, having issued seven proposed rules addressing the safety of produce, imported foods, and human and animal food production and transportation," Ostroff said. "Full implementation of these rules will help prevent these types of infections."
Glatter said consumers can prevent transmission of bacteria by using safety measures in the kitchen. Hand-washing as well as strict hygiene practices involving surfaces where food is prepared will help reduce the transmission of foodborne germs.