Two new papers released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 9.4 million illnesses, 55,961 hospitalizations and 1,351 deaths per year are caused by known foodborne pathogens.
The data represent the first comprehensive analysis released by CDC since a 1999 paper published by Dr. Paul Mead. That paper estimated that known foodborne pathogens, caused 14 million illnesses, 60,000 hospitalizations and 1,800 deaths.
According to the new estimates, the pathogens that caused the most illnesses were noro-virus (58%); nontyphoidal Salmonella spp (11%); C. perfringens (10%), and Campylobacter (9%). The leading causes of death by pathogen were nontyhpoidal Salmonella spp (28%); T. gondii (24%); L. monocytogenes (19%) and norovirus (11%). The paper does not attribute foodborne illnesses to their food sources.
CDC said that “unspecified agents” also cause 38.4 million foodborne illnesses, 71,878 hospitalizations and 1,686 deaths annually. CDC defines unspecified agents as “a group of less understood agents” that may be possible causes of foodborne illness, including mushroom and marine biotoxins and little-known bacterial pathogens like Aeoromonas, Edwarsiella, and Plesiomonas. Unspecified agents caused 80 percent of all illnesses and 56 percent of all hospitalizations and deaths.
CDC said in a press release that the papers provide the most accurate estimate to date about which foodborne pathogens are causing the most illness, as well as estimating the proportion of foodborne illness without a known cause.
"We've made progress in better understanding the burden of foodborne illness and unfortunately, far too many people continue to get sick from the food they eat," said CDC Director Thomas Frieden, M.D., M.P.H.
In a teleconference, CDC said that annual FoodNet Surveillance monitoring of nine pathogens has shown a 20 percent annual decline in laboratory confirmed illnesses.
“The new data, coupled with FoodNet data trends, confirm what we have known: that our food supply is getting safer every day,” said AMI Foundation President James H. Hodges, who oversees the Foundation’s food safety research program.
“The new data tell us that our food safety strategies have been working and we need to sustain our research efforts. Even one foodborne illness linked to meat and poultry products is cause for concern and we will not be satisfied until our food supply is even safer,” Hodges commented.
To view a series of charts depicting the data, click here.