Food poisoning any illness or disease that results from eating contaminated food—affects millions of Americans each year. While the American food supply is among the safest in the world, the Federal government estimates that there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illness annually—the equivalent of sickening 1 in 6 Americans each year. And each year these illnesses result in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.
Causes of Food Poisoning
- Bacteria and Viruses: Bacteria and viruses are the most common cause of food poisoning. The symptoms and severity of food poisoning vary, depending on which bacteria or virus has contaminated the food.
- Parasites: Parasites are organisms that derive nourishment and protection from other living organisms known as hosts. In the United States, the most common foodborne parasites are protozoa, roundworms, and tapeworms.
- Molds, Toxins, and Contaminants: Most food poisoning is caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites rather than toxic substances in the food. But some cases of food poisoning can be linked to either natural toxins or added chemical toxins.
- Allergens: Food allergy is an abnormal response to a food triggered by your body’s immune system. Some foods, such as nuts, milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat or soybeans, can cause allergic reactions in people with food allergies.
To better quantify the impact of foodborne diseases on health in the United States, we compiled and analyzed information from multiple surveillance systems and other sources. We estimate that foodborne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year. Known pathogens account for an estimated 14 million illnesses, 60, 000 hospitalizations, and 1,800 deaths. Three pathogens, Salmonella, Listeria, and Toxoplasma, are responsible for 1,500 deaths each year, more than 75% of those caused by known pathogens, while unknown agents account for the remaining 62 million illnesses, 265,000 hospitalizations, and 3,200 deaths. Overall, foodborne diseases appear to cause more illnesses but fewer deaths than previously estimated.
Four people in Washington and California died from eating contaminated meat from Jack in the Box. Hundreds of other customers also fell ill. This caused a national panic, nearly resulting in the end for the fast-food chain. The outbreak led to stronger government regulations of food handling.
The outbreak began in September, when the Food and Drug Administration linked E. coli infections to uncooked spinach in 26 states. Three people died, 31 suffered kidney failure, and 205 people reported cases of diarrhea and dehydration. During the outbreak, Dole recalled all its bagged spinach from shelves across the country. Investigators believe the contamination may have originated from a cattle ranch that leased land to a spinach farmer.
In December, an E. coli outbreak affected 71 customers of Taco Bell across five states. Eight people developed kidney failure, and 53 people were hospitalized. The Taco Bell outbreak was linked to contaminated lettuce from California. Following the outbreak, these states enacted stricter standards for handling lettuce.
Between October and November, Chipotle Mexican Grill had an E. coli outbreakTrusted Source. About 55 people in 11 states became ill after eating at the restaurant during the initial outbreak. There were 22 reported hospitalizations and no deaths. In a second outbreak for this fast-food chain, five people became ill from a different strain of E. coli. There’s no confirmed cause for either outbreak.
One of the largest botulism outbreaks in U.S. history occurred in Pontiac, Michigan. Customers of Mexican restaurant Trini & Carmen’s reported symptoms of food poisoning in March. The source was tracked to hot sauce made from improperly home-canned jalapeño peppers. Within days, the restaurant was closed and jars of contaminated peppers were seized. No were reported deaths, but 58 people became ill.