CDC: 1 in 6 Americans get food poisoning annually
December 15th, 2010
03:22 PM ET

CDC: 1 in 6 Americans get food poisoning annually

About 48 million Americans get sick from foodborne illness each year according to the first new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) since 1999.

According to CDC’s 2011 Estimates of Foodborne Disease, 1 in 6 Americans will get sick from known and unknown bacteria, viruses and microbes each year resulting in about 128,000 hospitalizations and about 3,000 deaths. This new data was released by the CDC online Wednesday (the two reports summarizing their results will be published in the CDC's Emerging Infectious Disease Journal in January, which is why the numbers are called “2011 estimates”).

"Fewer people are getting sick from the foods that they eat" says Dr. Chris Braden, the CDC’s Acting Director for the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases.

However, Braden emphasizes that the burden of people getting sick from foodborne illness is still substantial and more needs to be done to bring the illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths down. He notes that the cost associated with these illnesses is in the billions of dollars.

These two reports estimate that 31 different bugs are to blame for about 9.4 million people getting sick from the food they eat. Still, about 38.4 million Americans get sick from still unknown pathogens according to this new data.

Norovirus, which is often blamed for outbreaks on cruise ships and nursing homes for example, is said to cause about 60% of food poisoning related illnesses and salmonella is the leading cause of hospitalizations according to Braden.

The bacteria Campylobacter, Listeria, E. coli 0157, the parasite that causes Toxoplasmosis, and Clostridium perfringen, which according to the FDA is often nicknamed ‘cafeteria germ” also are listed as the most common cause of food poisonings according to the CDC.

Braden says more needs to be done to reduce the foodborne illness numbers.  "If we could reduce food borne illness by just 1%, we would keep about half a million people from getting sick from foods they eat."

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which, along with the Department of Agriculture, is responsible for keeping the food supply safe says the CDC reports emphasizes the magnitude of foodborne illness in this country and the need for more to be done. In statement the FDA says, “This [disease] burden falls most heavily on vulnerable populations that are growing in number–children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems.”

The FDA also says it is working towards improving the prevention of this kind of illness and “moving down this path as quickly as possible under current authorities but eagerly await passage of new food safety legislation that would provide us with new and long overdue tools to further modernize our food safety program. “

The last time the CDC issued a report like this was in 1999. But the new statistics cannot be compared head-to-head to those from a decade ago because different research techniques were used. For example, the 1999 data was based on interviews with about 9,000 people. Braden says this time around the CDC is relying on about 5 times the amount of data having interviewed more than 48,000 people.

However, based on information not in this report but based on other research that tracks trends every year, Braden says there’s been about a 20% decrease in foodborne illnesses in the past 10 years.

soundoff (1,743 Responses)
  1. Felipe

    Sounds like an underdeveloped country's sanitation situation.

    December 15, 2010 at 17:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rose

      "The FDA also says it is working towards improving the prevention of this kind of illness and “moving down this path as quickly as possible under current authorities but eagerly await passage of new food safety legislation that would provide us with new and long overdue tools to further modernize our food safety program. “

      The actual Bill is S-510 and it goes way beyond the scope of trying to give Amercians safer food! This is just another bill that give government way too much control over our personal lives. We need them to regulate the big companies that are putting all of the chemicals in our food not give them more control over it! Too bad CNN can't do their job and report the real truth about this bill.

      December 16, 2010 at 11:43 | Report abuse |
    • Valerie

      CNN has an owner and there is no law against reporting false news or putting a spin on the news you do report, unfortunately.

      December 16, 2010 at 13:48 | Report abuse |
    • Carol

      The three of us had salads at Bertuccis on Snowden River Parkway in Columbia Maryland on 1/13/2011. We are all sick with diahrea and nausea this is day 2, could it be e coli.

      January 15, 2011 at 23:25 | Report abuse |
  2. Eric

    If they would pass a law that held all food workers to the same standards as medical care providers then most of these cases would go away. As a medical care provider i go through a box of gloves everyday and wear a mask for every patient just to ensure that nothing is spread. I see time after time kids handling money and then preparing food with a manager standing next to them saying nothing of it. Inspections must be vigorous for food serving establishments as they are for health care facilities.

    December 15, 2010 at 18:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Fiona

    Sure way to get sick: the buffet table. Too many people touching the handles of the serving utensils, and sometimes dropping them back onto or into the platter. People reaching into a pile of food and grabbing some with their hands, or using the spigot of a drink dispenser. You touch all of that, and then you go to your table and eat a bread roll or a sandwich with your hands.

    Carry hand sanitizer. Use it liberally.

    December 15, 2010 at 19:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. elbert

    I know a few people who own restaurants and I visit the kitchen area some..I also know people who work in other restaurants and I have quit eating out because of what I see and hear, maybe some people can build up an immunity to the bad stuff, but I prefer to eat and home and feel somewhat safer about it

    December 15, 2010 at 20:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Hank Mishkoff

    I know I'll get slammed for being picky, but...

    The verb in the headline should be "gets," not "get." The subject of the sentence is "1," which is singular. Whoever wrote the headline was probably thinking that "Americans" was the subject of the sentence, but it's not, it's the object of the preposition "in."

    I should point out that I've been known to make grammar mistakes myself, and I don't usually go around correcting other people (a sure way to lose friends) - but a headline writer for a major news website really should be more careful, and definitely should have more attentive editors.

    December 15, 2010 at 21:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • moribundman

      You expect proper grammar on an infotainment site? Come on, CNN isn't a news site any longer. Who needs professional editors? Anybody can put on his editor hat and fill half a page with a cobbled-together "article" for a writing credit.

      December 16, 2010 at 00:00 | Report abuse |
  6. IxNay

    The only time I ever got food poisoning was at an upscale restaurant and from an unlikely culprit, squash soup. I was six months pregnant which made it even more horrible.

    December 15, 2010 at 21:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. r

    And who knows the real numbers! You could be one of the many who get sick and it never gets tallied up. How is it possible to really know how many people get sick each year from something they ate when every single case is not reported and noted.

    December 15, 2010 at 21:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. lee

    just maybe if we control the entry of ilegals into this county we could get back to normal. and leave all the bugs in country where they came from .

    December 15, 2010 at 21:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Emmaleah

      Most of those bugs you're talking about come straight from your backside. With your head up there, it's a wonder you're not sick all the time!

      December 16, 2010 at 00:12 | Report abuse |
  9. Patricia

    Alot of these are viruses and bacteria affect a population who are already immune compromised and have been on long term broad spectrum antibiotic therapy for some other infection, which in turn weakens and kills the natural Flora in a person's GI tract so that the bad bugs take over. So....listen to Jamie Lee, eat your yogurt, and for Christ sake, wash your hands evry once in awhile during the day...especially if you share a common keyboard at work.

    December 15, 2010 at 21:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Patricia

    And oh, by the way lee, bugs do't come from illegal aliens from other countries, they come from Mars...be careful on the bus...lol..

    December 15, 2010 at 21:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Emmaleah

    There is no such thing as 24-hr flu. I am so weary of ppl saying "oh, I had 24-hr flu". No, you ate something bad for you–possibly in your own kitchen.

    I worked in food services for a large childcare center, when I wasn't being a nanny, and the food protocols we had are ones I still use today (aside from the steam sterilizing my kitchen every night). Everyone should know how to handle food like that. Why these standards aren't taught in school is beyond me–it is SO important!

    Wash your hands, refrigerate your leftovers promptly, and for goodness' sake, stay home if you've had fever or vomiting in the last 24hrs, longer if you think it was norovirus. If we all just did that, we would save so much time and money. I know what it is like to be paid by the hour; everyone needs to set this as their standard so that fewer people are penalized for trying to keep others well. That means you, employers. Medications that prevent nausea and other unpleasantness are not so you can go to work, they are so you can rest and recover faster AT HOME.

    December 16, 2010 at 00:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • charles s

      You are right about sick people staying home BUT most of the food service workers would be FIRED for staying home. So if you are making minimum wage and need the job, you will go to work unless you are dying or passing out. All of the people who are opposed to universal health care should realize that all of the people without health insurance will go to work no matter how sick they are. So if you eat out a lot just be aware that sick people are making the food that you eat.

      December 16, 2010 at 00:19 | Report abuse |
    • Valerie

      So uninsured people will get fired for taking the day off to be sick, but not get fired for taking the day off to go to the doctor? Really, how much sense does that make. Either way they aren't at work.

      December 16, 2010 at 13:54 | Report abuse |
  12. charles s

    When you consider that most food server workers have no health insurance and no sick days, the fact that so many people get food poisoning is not surprising. It is very simple, when sick people are handling food, they will spread their diseases to the food. The idea that making them wear gloves and masks would make much of a difference, seems to me to unrealistic. Hospitals cannot get doctors and nurses to wash their hands between patients, do you really think that all of those food workers who are poorly trained and low paid will do it? Lets face it, we live in a big Petri dish full of pathogens waiting to dine on us.

    December 16, 2010 at 00:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Blackbeered

    If we can find these "1-in-6" people who get food poisoning once a year, and change their eating habits, I guess we'll have eliminated "food poisoning" in America.

    [The headline should have been => "Annually, 1 in 6 Americans poisoned"

    December 16, 2010 at 10:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Johnny

    These are odd statistics. I'm 39 years old and have only had food poisoning twice: Once from chicken fingers at a Chinese restaurant and once from a scombroid fish that was left out too long somewhere along the way to my refrigerator.

    These statistics don't come close to my personal, life experience. How very odd. Have many of you been sick all the time, as this article suggests?

    December 17, 2010 at 19:13 | Report abuse | Reply
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