Burden of Foodborne Illness: Questions and Answers

What are the main findings?

Foodborne diseases are an important public health burden in the United States.

First, we estimate that 31 of the most important known agents of foodborne disease found in foods consumed in the United States each year cause 9.4 million illnesses, 55,961 hospitalizations, and 1,351 deaths.

Second, not all agents of foodborne disease are known or can be counted as a “known agent of foodborne disease.” These other agents, which we call “unspecified agents,” include:

  • Known agents with insufficient data to estimate the agent-specific burden
  • Known agents not yet recognized as causing foodborne illness
  • Microbes, chemicals, or other substances known to be in food whose ability to cause illness  is unproven; and
  • Agents not yet described

As a group, we estimate that these unspecified agents in food consumed in the United States, cause an additional 38.4 million gastroenteritis illnesses, 71,878 hospitalizations, and 1,686 deaths each year.

After combining the estimates for the major known pathogens and the unspecified agents, the overall annual estimate of the total burden of disease due to contaminated food consumed in the United States is 47.8 million illnesses, 127,839 hospitalizations, and 3,037 deaths.

What are the leading causes of foodborne deaths, hospitalizations, and illnesses?

  • Nontyphoidal Salmonella, Toxoplasma, Listeria, and norovirus caused the most deaths.
  • Nontyphoidal Salmonella, norovirus, Campylobacter, and Toxoplasma caused the most hospitalizations.
  • Norovirus caused the most illnesses. Although norovirus usually causes a mild illness, norovirus is a leading cause of foodborne deaths because it affects so many people.