Digestive System Diseases

Foodborne Illnesses

Foodborne illness is common in the United States and is most often caused by norovirus.

Disease-causing microorganisms can frequently be transported by food and water. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks the number of cases of foodborne illnesses that occur each year, their causes, and their origin and transmission routes. Approximately 50 million cases of foodborne illness are reported each year, leading to approximately 3,000 deaths in the United States yearly. The most common cause of foodborne illness is norovirus. In fact, one out of every five food poisoning cases worldwide is due to norovirus. Norovirus is highly contagious, meaning it can be easily transmitted between people and can contaminate food and hard surfaces. Among the bacterial causes of foodborne illness, Salmonella spp. is the most prevalent, causing over 1 million cases of illness per year in the United States.

Foodborne illness may occur in isolated incidents or in outbreaks that affect a large number of people stemming from one initial source of pathogen. Produce is the most common food that transmits foodborne pathogens, causing 46% of illnesses, while meat and poultry are the most frequent source of death from foodborne illnesses, leading to 29% of deaths. The foodborne illness most frequently transmitted by produce is norovirus. Death caused by foodborne illnesses transmitted by meat and poultry is typically a result of listeria and salmonella infections.

Sources and Rates of Foodborne Illnesses

Pathogen Food Source Illnesses (Annual) Average Deaths (Annual)
Norovirus Food handlers with disease, produce, shellfish 5,461,731 149
Salmonella Meats, unpasteurized milk, eggs, contact with animals 1,027,561 378
Campylobacter Unpasteurized milk, meat, poultry 845,024 73
Clostridium perfringens Meat products 965,958 21
Yersinia enterocolitica Meats, shellfish, fish, unpasteurized milk 81,806 25
Toxoplasma gondii Raw or undercooked meat 68,521 259
Shigella Fruits, vegetables, seafood, food handlers with disease 58,930 4
E. coli O157:H7 Ground beef, produce, water, animal contact, unpasteurized milk, unpasteurized apple cider 54,189 18
Cryptosporidium Fruits, vegetables, water 34,286 2
Listeria monocytogenes Meats and meat products, cheeses 1,590 257
Vibrio vulnificus Shellfish 93 35
Clostridium botulinum Improperly canned foods; also fish, potatoes, and other foods kept at warm temperatures for too long 205 145
Rotavirus Contaminated produce, food handlers with disease 3,000,000 40
Staphylococcus aureus Meats, prepared salads, cream sauces, cream-filled pastries 241,148 <6

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), every year, thousands of people in the United States are affected by foodborne illnesses. Some illnesses have a high infection rate and low death rate, while others have high death rates and low infection rates. The food source typically determines the type of pathogens present.