In order to meet emerging public health challenges and efficiently address the leading causes of death and disability in America, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is focusing its efforts and resources on what it has identified as “Winnable Battles.” CDC considers Winnable Battles to be public health priorities that have a large-scale impact on health. To date, CDC has identified the following six Winnable Battles for improving public health nationwide:

  • Healthcare-Associated Infections
  • HIV
  • Motor Vehicle Injuries
  • Nutrition, Physical Activity, Obesity and Food Safety
  • Teen Pregnancy
  • Tobacco

The Winnable Battles were selected because they represent leading causes of illness, injury, disability or death, and/or significant economic burden to our nation each year. The CDC believes it can make significant progress in these targeted areas, in a reasonably short period of time, by using effective interventions that already exist.

Food safety is one component of the Nutrition, Physical Activity, Obesity and Food Safety Winnable Battle. The broad goals related to food safety are:

  1. Improve knowledge of incidence, trends, burden and causes of foodborne illness;
  2. Improve state and federal epidemiologic, laboratory and environmental health capacity to quickly detect and respond to foodborne outbreaks; and
  3. Decrease the rate of foodborne illness and the number of foodborne outbreaks each year.1

An estimated 1 in 6 Americans becomes ill each year from eating contaminated food, and approximately 3,000 people die annually due to foodborne diseases. By targeting food safety and implementing interventions that would reduce the incidence of foodborne illness by 10%, approximately 5 million fewer Americans would get sick from foodborne illness each year.

It is possible to make our food supply safer. According to Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) data, we have made progress in reducing several foodborne infections. Infections caused by the following foodborne pathogens declined in the identified amounts from 1996 to 2010: 

  • Campylobacter (27%)
  • Listeria (38%)
  • Shigella (57%)
  • Yersinia (52%)

In addition, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli infections, including those caused by E. coli O157:H7, were cut by 44%.2 Reducing the incidence of E. coli O157:H7 infections can have a significant economic benefit as CDC estimates preventing a single case of E. coli O157 infection saves an estimated $7 million.3

Unfortunately, the number of Salmonella infections has not declined over the past 15 years and has shown slight increases since 2006. According to CDC, Salmonella infections cause more hospitalizations and deaths than any other foodborne bacterial pathogen and account for $365 million in direct medical costs annually.3

Under the Winnable Battle initiative, CDC plans to refine its priorities to decrease Salmonella and other foodborne infections. It will also accelerate the public health response to foodborne illness at local, national and global levels. The agency plans to focus its efforts in the following three areas:

  1. Discovery - Tracking trends and risk factors, defining the burden, finding new pathogens and drug resistance, and attributing illness to specific foods.
  2. Innovation - Developing new tools, methods, and analytics in epidemiology, laboratory science, and environmental health.
  3. Implementation - Sharing new technology and information with local, state, and federal partners; improving communications; and targeting information to guide policy.4

In an effort to make a measureable impact quickly, CDC will employ sentinel sites that are faster at processing and reporting multiples sources of information during an outbreak. CDC will also seek out faster methods to identify, characterize, and fingerprint Salmonella and other food-related infections in public health laboratories. Finally, the agency will seek improved integration of the foodborne illness surveillance systems and expand data sharing called for in the Food Safety Modernization Act.4

By identifying clear targets, setting priority strategies in food safety, and working closely with its public health partners in the public and private sectors CDC can make significant progress in reducing the public health impact and economic burden of foodborne illness in the U.S.

Cited References:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Winnable Battles - Broad Goals,
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Trends in Foodborne Illness, 1996-2010,
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Vital Signs: Incidence and Trends of Infection with Pathogens Transmitted Commonly Through Food --- Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, 10 U.S. Sites, 1996-2010,
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Food Safety: A CDC Winnable Battle,

Other Related Resources:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2012) Winnable Battles,
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2012) Winnable Battles - Food Safety,
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