What is the prevalence of food poisoning in the US?

Updated: Jun 19, 2018
  • Author: Roberto M Gamarra, MD; Chief Editor: Praveen K Roy, MD, AGAF  more...
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Initially, food-borne diseases were estimated to be responsible for 6-8 million illnesses and as many as 9000 deaths each year. [5, 6] However, the change in food supply, the identification of new food-borne diseases, and the availability of new surveillance data have changed the morbidity and mortality figures. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 1 in 6 Americans (48 million people) are affected by foodborne illness annually. The estimates suggest 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 die. [7] The 31 known pathogens account for an estimated 9.4 million annual cases, 55,961 hospitalizations, and 1,351 deaths. Unspecified agents account for 38.4 million cases, 71,878 hospitalizations, and 1,686 deaths. [8]

Overall, food-borne diseases appear to cause more illnesses but fewer deaths than previously estimated. [9]

In a 2013 report, CDC investigators used data spanning the decade between 1998 and 2008 to report estimates for annual US food-borne illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths attributable to each of 17 food categories. [10, 11] The following were among their findings [10, 11] :

  • Leafy green vegetables were the most common cause of food poisoning (22%), primarily due to Norovirus species, followed by E coli O157.

  • Poultry was the most common cause of death from food poisoning (19%), with Listeria and Salmonella species being the main infectious organisms.

  • Dairy items were the second most frequent causes of foodborne illnesses (14%) and deaths (10%), with the main factors being contamination by Norovirus from food handlers and improper pasteurization resulting in contamination with Campylobacter species.

In March 2012, the CDC reported a rise in foodborne disease outbreaks caused by imported food in 2009 and 2011. Nearly 50% of the outbreaks implicated food that was imported from regions not previously associated with outbreaks. Outbreaks reported to CDC’s Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System from 2005-2010 implicated 39 outbreaks and 2,348 illnesses that were linked to imported food from 15 countries. Within this 5-year period, nearly half (17) occurred in 2009 and 2010. Fish (17 outbreaks) was the most common source of implicated imported foodborne disease outbreaks, followed by spices (6 outbreaks including 5 from fresh or dried peppers). Approximately 45% of the imported foods causing outbreaks came from Asia. [12]

The CDC recognized the following outbreaks and sources in 2012 [7] :

  • E coli – Spinach and spring mix, raw clover sprouts at a national chain of restaurants

  • Salmonella – Peanut butter, ricotta salata cheese, mangoes, cantaloupe, ground beef, live poultry, dry dog food, raw scraped ground tuna product, small turtles, raw clover sprouts

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