Advocates report decline in food-borne illnesses

"Contaminated food is still causing too many illnesses, visits to the emergency room, and deaths,” said CSPI Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaal in a statement.

"Yet state and local health departments and federal food safety programs always seem to be on the chopping block.  Those financial pressures not only threaten the progress we’ve made on food safety, but threaten our very understanding of which foods and which pathogens are making people sick."

Federal regulators are in the process of finalizing tighter food safety rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act, a 2011 law that focuses on preventing food-borne illness instead of merely reacting to it.

Several of the proposed regulations cover produce, the source of several major outbreaks over the last five years, as well as certain processed foods.

CSPI said that foods governed by the Food and Drug Administration — produce, seafood, dairy and processed foods — are more than twice as likely to cause outbreaks as the meat and poultry products regulated by the Department of Agriculture.

Illnesses related to dairy products reached their highest point in 2010, while sicknesses from produce, the category associated with the most risk, has remained flat, CSPI said.