Nearly 17% of Americans suffer food poisoning each year, study shows

A rash of food recalls, from peanuts to eggs, led to several deaths and new calls for a comprehensive food-safety bill, but it has become stalled in Congress. The recalls have also led many food growers and processors to hire private inspectors to protect themselves from lawsuits, but experts say the inspections are rife with flaws and often do not make products safer.
By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 15, 2010; 10:32 PM

One in six Americans gets sick from food every year, and about 3,000 die from those illnesses, according to data released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"These are preventable diseases," said Chris Braden, acting director of the division of food-borne, water-borne and environmental diseases at the CDC. "We need to do more to lower the impact of these diseases in the U.S."

The numbers mark the first time since 1999 that the federal government has updated the estimates for food-borne illnesses. The newest figures are lower than those in the 1999 report, which estimated that one in four Americans got sick from food each year and that 5,000 died.

But the new data cannot be compared with the earlier figures and should not be interpreted to mean food poisoning is decreasing, according to CDC officials.

Among the known food contaminants that can cause illness in humans, the leader is salmonella, which causes 28 percent of deaths from food-borne illness and 35 percent of hospitalizations, according to the report.

The report estimates that 48 million Americans get sick from food each year. Of that, 9.4 million become ill after consuming food contaminated by at least one of 31 known bacteria, parasites and other pathogens. But the remaining 38 million victims - the lion's share - are poisoned by unknown pathogens, according to the report.

Legislation designed to overhaul the nation's food safety system is pending on Capitol Hill.

!Daily The full report is available online here. For more detailed information on the estimates and methods, please visit here.

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