Foodborne illness affects fewer Americans than previously thought: CDC

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has revised downward its estimate of the number of Americans who become sick due to foodborne illness each year – from 76m to 48m.

The revised figures estimate that one in six Americans fall ill as a result of foodborne pathogens each year – down from one in four according to the CDC’s previous estimate. The agency has more than halved its estimation of the number of people who are hospitalized as a result of foodborne illness, from 375,000 a year to 128,000. And the number of estimated annual deaths has decreased from 5,000 to 3,000.

The figures are the CDC’s first update of foodborne illness data since 1999, and the first to estimate illnesses caused solely by foods eaten in the United States.

CDC director Thomas Frieden said: "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. These estimates provide valuable information to help CDC and its partners set priorities and further reduce illnesses from food."

The revised figures are not necessarily a reflection of an increasingly safe food supply, however. The CDC said that the differences are largely due to better data and methods used, resulting in more accurate estimates.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Margaret Hamburg said: "Foodborne illnesses and deaths are preventable, and as such, are unacceptable. We must, and can, do better by intensifying our efforts to implement measures that are prevention-oriented and science-based.”

Hamburg added that the passage of new food safety legislation, currently awaiting a Senate vote, would provide better tools to help modernize the United States’ food safety program.

According to the CDC’s new estimates, the pathogens that cause the most illnesses are norovirus (58 percent); non-typhoidal Salmonella spp (11 percent); C. perfringens (10 percent), and Campylobacter (9 percent). The leading causes of death are non-tyhpoidal Salmonella spp (28 percent); T. gondii (24 percent); L. monocytogenes (19 percent) and norovirus (11 percent).

The CDC’s full report is available online here​.

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