1 In 6 Americans Getting Sick From Food-Borne Illnesses

A new study from the Centers for Disease Control says that even while there have been inroads against the spread of some food-borne illnesses, one out of every six Americans will catch some type of food-borne illness each year.

In addition to the many millions of us who will spend a day or two attached to the toilet after ingesting tainted food, around 128,000 Americans are hospitalized each year and approximately 3,000 people will die.

On the bright side, these numbers are down from 1999, the last time the CDC conducted such a massive study on food-borne illnesses. That study concluded that one in four Americans caught something from icky edibles, 325,000 were hospitalized, and 5,000 people died.

However, experts caution that some of the improvement in these statistics is actually a result of improved research and survey methods by the CDC.

While outbreaks of pathogens like E.Coli and listeria appear to have decreased, one bug that continues to be a pest to America’s collective digestive tract is salmonella. Varieties of salmonella accounted for 28% of deaths and about 35% of hospitalizations caused by known pathogens.

“The biology of salmonella is complex, and there are many sources and transmission routes that we don’t understand well,” a professor from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health tells WebMD. “I think that understanding and preventing salmonella should be the major focus of food safety activities for the next few years.”

As you probably recall, salmonella was responsible for the recent recall of hundreds of millions of eggs.

1 in 6 Americans Gets Food-borne Illness [WebMD]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Blueskylaw says:

    Can’t discuss article now…….must……get……to……doctor

  2. Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

    Can we just give up now and say salmonella MIGHT be in EVERYTHING?

  3. Reading_Comprehension says:

    I’m not usually one for sweeping generalizations, but everything I know about modern food production points to factory farms as the culprit.

  4. Dr.Wang says:

    We see lots of patients in the ER with food poisoning symptoms, which are almost the same as stomach flu symptoms. Since we are heading quickly into stomach flu season may I suggest before you blame the restaurant, it is much much more likely you got the stomach flu and not spoiled food. Stomach flu is very contagious and spread on public surfaces. Always wash your hands and use a hand sanitizer. Grab the shopping cart sitting out in the sun.

    • neilb says:

      Hand sanitizers appear to only be effective for norovirus if they are a specific formulation!

      “Norovirus, also known as the stomach flu virus, notoriously resists most common disinfectants, including most hand sanitizers. According to an August 2008 study in Applied & Environmental Microbiology, the average alcohol-based hand sanitizer has relatively little effect on this gastrointestinal scourge. In this study, the researchers developed a new formulation that had a stronger effect against norovirus. Hand sanitizers still do not replace hand washing when fighting the spread of this illness.”
      From: http://www.ehow.com/about_5505268_dangers-hand-sanitizer.html

      • u1itn0w2day says:

        The thing I don’t like about sanitizers is that they leave a residue, so what happens when the anti germ stuff wears off. What’s in that residue besides that sticky feeling. Can’t stand all the finger prints, smudges and residue the big time lotion and/or sanitizer leave behind.

    • Necoras says:

      Unfortunately alcohol based hand sanitizers (read: all those gels) don’t do much against the norovirus/stomach flu. For that you need a chlorine based sanitizer. Lysol type stuff has chlorine in it, which is good for spraying stuff down. They probably have some handwipes that would work well for a portable solution. A bleach solution works too for your home countertops.

      • Dr.Wang says:

        Oh yes. Thanks for reminding me. you are totally right. For norovirus the alcohol based foam or gel are mostly ineffective. Handwashing is still defense #1. This time of year, this is the #1 complaint in the ER and most everyone thinks they ate “bad food”, when it is much much more likely a norovirus type of illness. This is why I don’t bother with the wipes at the store and grab the cart in the sunshine (an advantage to living in Phoenix) and wash my hands when I get home and after putting the groceries away. Plus you gotta keep your fingers out of your nose, eyes, and mouth. Thanks for the reminder, you are totally correct.

    • Cantras says:

      see, I’m most familiar with “stomach flu” as meaning “food poisoning.” Unwashed hands, yeah, that then handle your food and spread it.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        Stomach flu (which isn’t really a “flu” but that’s beside the point) isn’t always food poisoning. People associate the two because both involve an upset stomach and similar symptoms, but it can be caused by a virus as well.

  5. lolBunny says:

    after you have food poisoning you take all precaution to ensure that nothing can be contaminated in your home. People think I am overboard because I am such a stippler with cleaning up immediately after handling and preparing raw meat and preventing cross contamination. I get tired of explaining to these people (family, friends, old roommates, guests, etc.) the importance of keeping a clean work space and proper food storage.

    I guess I should tell them upfront of how for 24 hours straight I had to throw up every 15 minutes like clock work. That was 24 hours from hell, and I couldn’t sleep at all as when I just fall off to sleep, my stomach would lurch and to the bucket by the bed I would hug….

    • Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:


      • lolBunny says:

        okay, how about “advocate”

        • Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

          stip·ple (stpl)
          tr.v. stip·pled, stip·pling, stip·ples
          1. To draw, engrave, or paint in dots or short strokes.
          2. To apply (paint, for example) in dots or short strokes.
          3. To dot, fleck, or speckle: “They crossed a field stippled with purple weeds” (Flannery O’Connor).
          1. A method of drawing, engraving, or painting using dots or short strokes.
          2. The effect produced by stippling.

          Did you mean…
          stick·ler Noun /ˈstik(ə)lər/
          noun: pedant
          sticklers plural
          1.A person who insists on a certain quality or type of behavior
          â– a stickler for accuracy
          â– a stickler when it comes to timekeeping
          2.A difficult problem; a conundrum

        • Sidecutter says:

          I think his point was that the word you were looking for is stickler, not stippler.

    • ellemdee says:

      Even people who handle food at work don’t realize how easily salmonella can be transmitted (I’m guessing they’re not necessarily trained on how to prevent contaamination). When I returned several jars of salmonella-tainted peanut butter to the store at the manufacturer’s direction, I triple wrapped the jars in plastic bags, explained to the cashier why I was returning them & why they were wrapped up so well, and warned her not to open the bags. She stil insisted on unbagging all of them and handling the jars without even wearing gloves, then touching the register, the money, other people’s food orders, etc.

  6. Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

    “…a professor from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health…”

    Was his name RALPH?

  7. Miss Dev (The Beer Sherpa) says:

    If you think you have food poisoning, contact your local health inspector immediately. Their contact information will be readily available online. The sooner you let them know, the sooner the problem can be fixed and less people will become ill.

    I got food poisoning from a Chinese restaurant near my work. Immediately after eating, I started to fill “off”. That night began my two day stint laying on the floor of my bathroom. I called our health department and spoke with an inspector who, I found out, had actually inspected that restaurant the same day I visited. He found a slew of violations. The place is still open, but they’ve had to post their violations on the door. My coworkers still eat there, which baffles me, and I hope they’ve cleaned up their act, but who knows.

    Another really nasty thing you can get when eating out is Hep B. If someone doesn’t wash their hands after using the restroom, and then prepares your food, you can get this nasty disease. I highly recommend getting the vaccinations for it.

    • wsupfoo says:

      I’ve always read it takes 24-48 hours for symptoms to show. If you were feeling bad right away, it may have been something you ate the day before.

      • Necoras says:

        Food poisoning usually hits pretty quickly. You’re more likely to get a large dose of the contagion directly to your intestinal tract very quickly. If it’s something you’ve eaten, you’ll probably be sick within hours. Viruses (norovirus and influenza) usually have an incubation period of a day or two. The virus has to build up in your body.

        • mythago says:

          Food poisoning does take a day or so to get going. However, there are lots of other problems you can develop from mishandled food (the old ‘mixing up the dehydrated potato flakes with the soap’ trick, for one) that show up immediately.

      • Brunette Bookworm says:

        It depends on the type of food poisoning.


      • Clyde Barrow says:

        I get sick quickly like MissDev. Two weeks ago I did it to myself and knew better. My yogurt had been on my office desk since I walked in at 8am and decided to eat it at 5pm. About one minute later I felt this warm rush through my head and my stomach went light and queazy. I didn’t get sick but hey, I should not have done it. But I’ve been where she’s been with throwing up for two days and I felt like someone was taking a knife and stabbing me from the inside out. Worse pain that I ever felt. It does not have to take 24 hours.

  8. Necoras says:

    I want to know why there’s no commercially available OTC anti-emetic (other than pepto, which has never done me a great amount of good). Last time my wife was sick we called our doctor to try and get a prescription for one and half a day later when I called back the nurse had forgotten about it and went and got a prescription for us.

    All these pills do is make you feel better and sleep, which is exactly what you want to do when you’ve been puking for 24 hours. Please just let me buy them.

    • evnmorlo says:

      Doctors and hospitals need to control the market. No other way that anyone can make $300k/year. Can’t even buy salve for a rash without paying for an office visit.

    • aloria says:

      This sounds weird, but Dramamine (dimenhydrinate) might work for what you want (make you feel better and sleep.) It’s marketed for motion sickness, but it’s basically just an anti-emetic.

    • gman863 says:

      There is actually an anti-nausea drug that works. I can’t remember the name; however I do remember the dosing method:

      Innuendo – the Italian medical term for suppository.

  9. FatLynn says:

    I had salmonella last year that didn’t go away for almost a month. Yuck.

    • ellemdee says:

      I had salmonella from tainted peanut butter. I have a sensitive stomach, so I though it was just acting up and I figured a spoonful of peanut butter might help me feel better. Still not feeling better…guess I’ll have one more scoop… I kept reinfecting myself for a month before Peter Pan finally issued the recall and I figured out what was going on

  10. Arcaeris says:

    I’ve gotten actual E. coli three goddamn times this year, and salmonella once. It’s terrible. I’m never buying from vendors at the San Diego Little Italy farmer’s market or at any festivals again. Ugh.

  11. denros says:

    A minor semantics issue (that the article got right) is that food-borne illness is not the same as food “poisoning”, though the two are often used interchangeably.

    I would also be interested to see the relationship between the sources being processed foods, as they rely on preservatives to keep pathogens out, vs. unprocessed. As for eggs, I’d really like to see some studies to determine if cage-free are truly less prone to salmonella.

  12. u1itn0w2day says:

    Not only is it good habits but if you don’t feel right don’t do old habits. I see too many people with stomach trouble try to eat the way they normally do which makes matters worse and bigger.

    You try to eat a burger and fries feeling ‘off’ and before you know it you’re making many more trips than usual to the restroom. Every time you go into a restroom you increase the chances of you not cleaning up right and spreading the crap(literally in some cases). AND an off stomach won’t appreciate fats, greases, spices, preservatives, sryups etc so again you just made matters worse. But this shows how addicted to certain foods or how habitual we are when it comes to eating habits. You eat normally you give the illness ammunition and better chance to spread-literally

    “oh you should eat something”- no, keep fluids up only. I’ve had doctors tell me when the body violently expells food it’s natures way of evicting the unwanted guests. You must let nature take it’s course. If I get sick of feel off my down time is a fraction of what most have because I don’t eat. I try to keep down fluids only. Unless you are an anorexic junky most have enough fat to last several days without food. Think of it as a fast. Discipline.

    Hmmm, a 1/2 day of some discomfort or a trip to the ER a couple of days later to get IVs because your so dehydrated from your body trying to trash rather than use the crap YOU dumped into it.

  13. ConsumerPop says:

    That photo is amazing.

  14. Saltpork says:

    I rarely get food illness and it’s because I follow the basic rules of hygiene. I’m no freak about it, but I wash my hands after I use the bathroom & before I handle my food.

    If I’m cooking I wash my hands after I’m done handling raw meats and anything that is touched while handling raw meat goes to one side of the sink before I wash so it will not contaminate the rest of my work. Remember to wipe down the counters with disinfectant before starting anything else. Allow it to dry.

    I think part of the issue is that people eat out often enough and that some establishments have lax enough rules that it’s almost impossible not to pick something up eventually.

    If I make it myself(including grinding the meat), then I know what is in it and how it was prepared.

  15. Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

    I spent the last week and a half vomiting etc. My ‘sympathetic’ brother texts me “How was the fish?”

    The fish was purchased frozen from Costco, put directly into the freezer at home, then to the oven (still frozen), undercooked, poked with a fork, cooked fully, eaten with same fork D’oh!

    • u1itn0w2day says:

      A product or people problem? That is the problem. I think too many want food safety to be solely the seller’s problem when the consumer still has to take precautions and/or use common sense.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        Sometimes Mr. Pi looks at a bowl full of spoons and asks “how come you used so many spoons?” and I have to remind him that I have to use a new spoon whenever I’m sampling whatever I’m making. It’s a pain to wash so many spoons but even when it’s family I make sure I don’t contaminate the food with my germs.

  16. Clyde Barrow says:

    1 of 6 is 160,000 out of 1,000,000 people. 16% isn’t that bad considering all things. Could it get better? Maybe. But I bet it depends more upon the general public than private industry. My ex-roommate is a sad example of “clean the toilet, walk out the door, eat at McDs, enter the ER”. Happened four times in 18 months and I’ve never seen anyone exhibit the same poor behavior over and over and over. He never got “it” that he was the culprit but dog-gone it, he was convinced it was McD’s fault. We have guys at my employer that routinely walk out of stalls and not wash their hands. I say if it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen. My female coworkers tell me that women do the same thing. In American society, it’s always the other person’s fault anyway.

  17. daemonaquila says:

    The study “headline” is such a non-issue. Sure, lots of people get a little sick from eating something that has gone off, and they will continue to do so. The real issue is the growing number of serious food contamination issues caused by bad farming practices and sloppy/cheap processing practices that get large numbers of people seriously ill. They need to address the problem at the source – corporations that will do anything to increase their bottom line.

  18. theblackdog says:

    The person who posted the note in that picture is utterly wrong. Lance crackers were never recalled because they made their own peanut butter rather than buy it from the salmonella laced peanut butter company.

  19. HogwartsProfessor says:

    Re the picture: after the evil Peanut Corporation of America recall news broke, I checked our vending machine and sure enough, there were products of an affected brand inside. I called the vending company and they took them out.

    My former evil boss (he has since quit) said “Oh, I ate some of those just this morning!” I waited all day, but he didn’t get sick. Bummer. ;)

  20. gman863 says:

    Besides food, there are a few critical sources of infection and transmittal most people totally ignore:

    Keyboards, mice and telephones.

    20/20 did a report on this a few years ago. They swabbed several areas in the ABC News restrooms (flush handles, seats, faucets) and the ABC News office areas (keyboards, mice, phone keypads and phone headsets) and let the samples incubate for a few days.

    The restrooms (cleaned at least once per day) came back with minimal bacteria. The office equipment was teeming with almost every common communicable disease known to medicine including flu and e-coli.

    If you share phones and PCs with co-workers or other family members, a can of Lysol in your desk is a good investment. So long as you don’t soak the keyboard it won’t damage anything. If you get strange looks from them, tell them about the 20/20 report and ask how they enjoyed their last two day stint driving the porcelain bus.

    ‘Nuff said.

  21. u1itn0w2day says:

    It’s not always things like the mcgrease or meat from the quarter pounders at MickyDs it’s the suppliers of things like lettuce and tomatoe. We had a local MickyDs where I thought it was the grease but then I saw a report on salad bars & contamination so I started getting my burgers without the lettuce and tomatoe and sure enough little or no more stomach trouble at MickyDs AND other burger joints.

    You shouldn’t have to order food based on fear of possible contamination but the more ingredients in your food even if a salad or fruit the more that can go wrong. Best not to count on your favorite gourmet experience when dining out.

  22. CWG85338 says:

    …and we continue our descent into Third World status.