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Incidence and Trends of Foodborne Illness, 2011

Each year, foodborne illness, commonly known as food poisoning, affects about 48 million people in the United States. Food poisoning can happen anywhere, to anyone, and from foods we might not expect.

Public health surveillance, such as that conducted by the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet), provides needed data for tracking trends. Documenting trends—which illnesses are decreasing and which are increasing—is essential for monitoring how well we are doing in reducing foodborne illness.

FoodNet: Report Card for Food Safety

The Foodborne Disease Active Surveillance Network, or FoodNet, has given us snapshots of our progress in reducing Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157 and other foodborne infections since 1996. Each year, FoodNet reports on the changes in the number of people in the United States sickened with foodborne infections that have been confirmed by laboratory tests.

Foodborne diseases monitored through FoodNet include infections caused by the bacteria Campylobacter, E. O157, Listeria, Salmonella, Shigella, Vibrio, and Yersinia, and the parasites Cryptosporidium and Cyclospora. The data collected by FoodNet also lets CDC, its partners, and policy makers know how much progress has been made in reaching national goals for reducing foodborne illness.

Progress Over Time: Recent Trends

Comparing 2011 with 2006–2008, rates of infection were significantly lower for Shigella (43% decrease) and E. coli O157 (25% decrease) and higher for Campylobacter (14% increase); incidence did not change significantly for Cryptosporidium, Listeria, Salmonella, Vibrio, and Yersinia infections.

  • Incidence was calculated by dividing the number of laboratory-confirmed infections in 2011 by U.S. Census estimates of the population of the FoodNet surveillance area.

In 2011, the overall incidence of infection with six key pathogens transmitted commonly through food (Campylobacter, Listeria, Salmonella, E. coli O157, Vibrio, and Yersinia) was not significantly different than in 2006–2008.

Progress Over Time: Long-term Trends

In contrast, the overall incidence of infection with six key pathogens transmitted commonly through food was significantly lower in 2011 compared with 1996–1998.

The incidence of infection did not change significantly for Salmonella or Cryptosporidium and was higher for Vibrio (76% increase). The incidence of infection was significantly lower in 2011 compared with 1996-1998:

  • Shigella (65% decrease),
  • Yersinia (52% decrease),
  • E. coli O157 (42% decrease),
  • Listeria (35% decrease)
  • Campylobacter (22% decrease)

Who is at Greater Risk of Foodborne Illness?

The incidences of laboratory-confirmed infection with Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O157 and non-O157, Shigella, and Yersinia were highest among children aged <5 years. The incidences of Cyclospora, Listeria, and Vibrio infection were highest among adults aged ≥65 years.

Young children and older adults were also more likely to have severe complications or die from these illnesses. Thirteen percent of infections, 24% of hospitalizations, and 57% of deaths occurred among adults aged ≥65 years.

Know Your Risk

People in vulnerable stages of life (pregnant women, infants, young children, those with weakened immune systems, and older adults) have a higher risk for foodborne illness and are most prone to getting severe complications or dying from these illnesses.

Reduce Your Risk

  • Photo: Woman and man cutting up vegetables
  • Many foodborne illnesses can be prevented by preparing and storing foods safely.
  • Everyone should follow safe food-handling and preparation recommendations and not consume raw or undercooked foods of animal origin such as eggs, ground beef, and poultry; unpasteurized milk; and raw or undercooked oysters. Avoid bruised or damaged fresh produce, and dented or bulging cans. Choosing pasteurized eggs, high pressure-treated oysters, and irradiated food products can further reduce risk. Everyone should wash hands after handling raw or undercooked foods of animal origin and after contact with animals and their environments.
  • Everyone should be especially careful when preparing food for infants, young children, pregnant women, those in poor health due to conditions that weaken immunity, and older adults.
  • Food preparers should follow the simple steps of Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.
  • Food preparers should avoid preparing food for others if they have recently had diarrhea or vomiting, and wash hands thoroughly if they must prepare food.

More detailed information on food safety issues and practices, including steps consumers can take to protect themselves, is available at www.foodsafety.gov.

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