Despite Progress, Bad Bugs in Food Sicken 1 in 6 Americans Each Year
By Daniel J. DeNoon
WebMD Health News
Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD
June 7, 2011 -- Germ-filled food sickens one in six Americans every year, the CDC says in its annual report on food safety.
The CDC's FoodNet system, which covers about 15% of the U.S. population, reported some 20,000 illnesses, 4,200 hospitalizations, and 68 deaths from nine different food-borne infections in 2010.
But many Americans who get food poisoning don't get counted by FoodNet, including many people who are hospitalized or killed. For every reported case of salmonella, for example, the CDC estimates there are 29 uncounted cases.
Using this rule of thumb, you could multiply by 29 the 29 deaths, 2,290 hospitalizations, and 8,256 salmonella infections reported to the CDC in 2010.
"Although foodborne infections have decreased by nearly one-fourth in the past 15 years, more than 1 million people in this country become ill from Salmonella each year," CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, says in a news release.
There's some good news. Infections with the dangerous E. coli O157 strain dropped by half over the last 15 years. Overall, infections from six food-borne infections are down 23% in 2010.
Salmonella, however, increased by 10%, and there was also a rise in infections from vibrio bacteria found in raw shellfish.
Salmonella can be found in nearly any kind of food:
- Poultry accounts for 29% of infections.
- Eggs account for 18% of infections.
- Vine vegetables, fruits, and nuts account for 13% of infections.
- Pork accounts for 12% of infections.
- Beef accounts for 8% of infections.
- Other foods (including sprouts, leafy greens, root vegetables, grains, beans, shellfish, oil, sugar, and dairy products) account for 20% of infections.
These foods can be contaminated at almost any step between farm and table.
How to Avoid E. coli, Salmonella, Other Food-borne Infections
The CDC says you can cut your risk of getting salmonella and other food-borne illnesses by:
- Cleaning. Wash your hands, cutting boards, utensils, and countertops after they come into contact with any food.
- Separating. Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood separate from ready-to-eat foods.
- Cooking. Use a food thermometer to ensure that all whole meats are cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit (with resting three minutes before carving). Make sure ground meats are cooked to 160 degrees and poultry is cooked to 165 degrees.
- Chilling. Keep your refrigerator set below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and refrigerate all foods that can spoil.
- Reporting. Tell your health department about any suspected illness.
- Having common sense. Don't prepare food for others if you have diarrhea or vomiting. And take special care when preparing food for children, for people in poor health, for pregnant women, and for the elderly.
Infectious Disease Resources
CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, early release, June 7, 2011.
News releases, CDC.
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