NEW YORK (MainStreet) — There are an estimated 48 million cases of food-borne illness a year in the U.S., says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These outbreaks resulted in 23,152 cases of illness, 1,276 hospitalizations and 22 deaths in 2008, the most recent year for which data has been analyzed.
The stats, released as part of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, show that while both the number of outbreaks and illnesses associated with food-borne pathogens decreased from the average before 2008, the number of hospitalizations and deaths related to these illnesses has gone up.
The CDC cites an average of 861 hospitalizations from 2003 to 2007, when 18 deaths were attributed to food-borne illness.
The most common food-borne agent is still the norovirus, which causes diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain and accounted for 49% of outbreaks and 46% of illnesses in 2008. Salmonella was the second biggest culprit, accounting for 23% of outbreaks and 31% of illnesses.
Hospitalizations were most commonly associated with salmonella, followed by E. coli and the norovirus. Twenty of the 22 deaths were related to bacterial pathogens, including salmonella, listeria and staphylococcus.
The largest numbers of food-borne disease outbreaks were associated with beef, poultry and fish products, but the largest numbers of illnesses associated with these outbreaks, however, were attributed to vine-stalk vegetables, fruits and nuts and beef.
The stats are being released just a few days after the Food and Drug Administration announced plans to test two pilot programs designed to enhance the agency’s ability to trace products responsible for outbreaks of food-borne illness. Few details have been made public, but the FDA did say one program will address produce and the other will deal with processed foods.
The programs follow a year in which repeated food-borne illnesses have made news. A massive E. coli outbreak spread across Europe in June after sprouts became contaminated with a mutant strain of the bacteria, while the U.S. experienced a much smaller-scale and less deadly outbreak of a particularly dangerous strain of salmonella in August.
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