CDC report breaks out causes of food-borne illness

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More than 9 million people in the United States contract a food-borne illness each year, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The good news for the beef business is that beef ranks relatively low among foods associated with illness.

The researchers used data from outbreak-associated illnesses from 1998 through 2008 to estimate total food-borne illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths associated with 17 foods.

Not surprisingly, foods typically consumed raw are associated with the most cases of illness. Among single commodities, leafy vegetables account for the highest incidence of illness at 23 percent of the total. The broader category of produce accounts for 46 percent of all food-borne illness. The researchers acknowledge though, that the health benefits of foods such as fruits and vegetables should be weighed against the risk of illness.

Meat and poultry products, including beef, game, pork and poultry, account for 22 percent of food-borne illness cases. But some of those illnesses tend to be more serious as the category accounts for 29 percent of deaths from food-borne pathogens.

Poultry accounted for the most deaths among all 17 commodities covered in the study, at 19 percent. Most of those deaths were associated with Listeria or Salmonella infections.

Dairy foods were second-most frequent food source causing illness, accounting for 14 percent of the total, and second in illnesses resulting in deaths at 10 percent. The researchers note that some illnesses associated with dairy result from consumption of raw milk, while others relate to improper pasteurization or contamination after pasteurization.

Norovirus caused the most outbreaks and outbreak-associated illnesses, accounting for about 31 percent of outbreaks and 34 percent of outbreak-associated illnesses during the 10-year study period.

Most bacterial illnesses were attributed to dairy foods at 18 percent, poultry at 18 percent and beef at 13 percent.

In a table showing most-probable estimates for illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths associated with each food covered in the study, beef ranks sixth in total illnesses, seventh in hospitalizations and ninth in deaths caused by food-borne illness.

The study’s results are scheduled for publishing in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases in March, but currently are available on the CDC website.

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kansas  |  February, 01, 2013 at 10:42 AM

Little side-note on this for our natural and organic friends in the vegetarian & vegan worlds. To date, the largest single incident of foodborne illness and death is a case in the EU where Organic leafy vegetables sickened over 3,000 people and killed several hundred. Have a steak kids and stay healthy and alive!

Rob Stuart    
Bedford, TX  |  February, 01, 2013 at 11:46 AM

The major problem with all of these CDC reports is that they are estimates. They never publish the actual reported deaths for each year. They only hang on the 3000 number. The actual reported deaths per year is under 15 per year, a far cry from the estimated 3000. If we actually had 3000 deaths per year, that would be equivalent to 10 per day. The other point is that all of these publications are controlled by the CDC, not an outside third-party publisher of the information. This makes me wonder if the whole Food Safety Law would have been enacted had we only had 15 deaths per year.

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