AP Medical Writer Marilynn Marchione, wrote about the recent decline in foodborne illnesses, as reported by the CDC.  She spoke with several scientists and regulators from the food industry about the reported declines.

"The meat and poultry industry has made great strides. The produce industry has a long way to go to catch up," said Michael Doyle, a microbiologist who heads the University of Georgia’s Center for Food Safety.

Ms. Marchione wrote in the context of the recent E. coli outbreak traced to spinach from the Salinas Valley:

The spinach sickened 187 people in 26 states, hospitalized 97 of them and killed one. Outbreaks typically are far larger than the number of lab-confirmed cases reported to federal officials, Tauxe noted.

Germs in food make 76 million Americans sick, send 323,000 to hospitals and kill 5,000 each year, the CDC estimates.

But the situation greatly improved over the last decade, according to illness statistics the agency reported Friday at a conference of the American Society for Microbiology.

In 2005, compared with the 1996-98 period when the CDC’s FoodNet tracking system began, illnesses were down for virtually every major germ.

CDC estimates the declines as follows: yersinia, 49 percent; shigella, 43 percent; listeria, 32 percent; campylobacter, 30 percent; the dangerous O157 strain of E. coli, 29 percent; and salmonella, 9 percent.