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Food Safety

The Extent of Foodborne Illness in America

According to the best available estimates by public health and food safety experts, millions of illnesses and thousands of deaths each year in this country can be traced to contaminated food. The following describes the scope of the problem:

  • The General Accounting Office (GAO), in a May 1996 report, stated that there are between 6.5 million and 81 million cases of foodborne illness a year. In 1994, CAST estimated that 6.5 million to 33 million cases of foodborne illness occur in the U.S. every year. The wide range in cases of foodborne illness is due to the uncertainty about the number that go unreported.
  • The National Center for Health Statistics estimates the number of deaths per year from foodborne illness to be 9,100.
  • While the likelihood of serious complications is unknown, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that about 2 to 3 percent of all foodborne illness cases lead to secondary long-term illnesses. For example, E. coli O157:H7 can cause kidney failure in young children and infants; Salmonella can lead to reactive arthritis and serious infections; Listeria can cause meningitis and stillbirths; and Campylobacter may be the most common precipitating factor for Guillain-Barre syndrome.
  • Since 1982, E. coli O157:H7 has emerged as an important cause of foodborne illness. Because many laboratories do not routinely test for it, the actual number of illnesses caused by E. coli O157:H7 is unknown, but CDC estimates this pathogen causes approximately 21,000 illnesses annually.
  • CDC estimates that between 2 and 4 million illnesses occur each year in the U.S. from the more than 2,000 strains of Salmonella.
  • According to CDC, Campylobacter is the most common bacterial cause of diarrhea in the U.S., resulting in 1 to 6 million illnesses each year.
  • Each year, an estimated 1,850 persons become seriously ill from Listeria monocytogenes. The disease primarily affects pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems.
If you have questions or concerns about food safety, contact:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Meat and Poultry Hotline at (800) 535-4555 or (202) 720-3333 (Washington, DC area). The TTY number for the hearing impaired is (800) 256-7072.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Information Line at (888) SAFE FOOD.

Reprinted with permission from
The Fight BAC! Web site at: www.fightbac.org

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This document is strictly for informational purposes

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