Food Poisoning Strikes 1 in 6 Americans Yearly

Cheryl Clark, December 20, 2010

One in six Americans, or 48 million people get sick each year because of pathogens in their food, resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths, according to two new federal reports , the first on the topic in more than a decade.

"These illnesses are associated with billions in healthcare costs and also have a substantial human cost in severe illnesses, and in some cases long-term health effects that linger after the initial illness subsides," said Chris Braden, MD, director of the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 "With this many illnesses affecting Americans each year, prevention and interventions to address these diseases are vitally important. These are preventable diseases," he said. 

One of the two reports released by the CDC focuses on foodborne illnesses associated with major pathogens, while the other examines an estimated 38.4 million illnesses caused by "unspecified agents" such as unspecified agents or agents poorly understood or not yet recognized as causing foodborne illness. Unspecified agents are estimated to cause 71,878 hospitalizations and 1,686 deaths a year.

Braden also pointed to another set of statistics, the CDC's FoodNet surveillance system, which shows a 20% drop in illnesses due to 31 known foodborne pathogens over the last decade.

"Fewer people are getting sick from the foods they eat and that we know now more than ever about the pathogens that are causing illnesses so we can focus our efforts on those," he said.

Braden said the reports are very important because they provide "a window into which pathogens are causing the most severe illness. "By knowing this, CDC and our regulatory partners can better target those pathogens so we can have the better help to protect the nation's food supply."

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