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.

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