hearing elected and appointed officials say 76 million Americans were ill
with a foodborne illness last year. That number is misleading.
The number comes from a CDC journal called "Emerging Infectious
Diseases", published ten years ago in September, 1999. For that full
report, go to: Food-Related Illness and Death in the United States.
In this report, the authors used FoodNet data from 1996-98 to reach
the conclusion that 76 million Americans suffered a foodborne illness.
week the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released its "Preliminary FoodNet Data on the Incidence of
Infection with Pathogens Transmitted Commonly Through Food--10 States,
report, comparing 2008 rates with rates from 1996-98, Yersinia had
decreased 48%, Shigella had decreased 40%, Listeria had decreased 36%,
Campylobacter was down 32%, and E coli 0157:H7 was down 25%. Salmonella
did not change over that period, but had been down by 8% last year until
the recent high number outbreaks.
If the rates have dropped over the last
10 years, shouldn’t the number being thrown around also drop?
reading the 1999 report, I question the accuracy of the 76 million number
because of two assumptions and one fact. The one fact is that the
illnesses include Salmonella from petting zoos, E coli from livestock
shows, Giardia from mountain streams and Hepatitis A from food service
first assumption is that for every reported case of Salmonella and
Campylobacter, the two most common pathogens, 37 go unreported so the
number is multiplied by a factor of 38, a number that is 10 times higher
than used in the UK. Personally,
if I get bloody diarrhea, I am heading straight for my doctor's office.
second assumption is that there are 130 million cases of Norwalk-like
viral gastrointestinal illnesses per year, and that 40% of those are
foodborne. The authors admit that is a speculative number, and that if
they had chosen 30%, the number of foodborne illnesses would "only"
be 63 million per year.
we only looked at foodborne illnesses that are the result of the meat,
poultry and produce slaughter and/or processing practices, numbers which
have fallen the last ten years but not reflected in the repeated use of
the 76 million number, and do not count 52 million viral illnesses and
other illnesses not related to industry, what is the "real"
number of foodborne illnesses last year that the USDA and/or FDA could
have an impact on? Now that would be an interesting number.
FSIS is responsible for making certain that labels are "accurate and
not misleading". Shouldn’t the same be demanded of the speech
writers for the people who keep saying "76 million Americans
suffered a foodborne illness last year" and our system "is a
hazard to public health?"