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Press Release

For Immediate Release: September 16, 1999
Contact: CDC Media Relations (404) 639-3286

CDC data provides the most complete estimate on foodborne disease in the United States

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released today the most complete estimate to date on the incidence of food-borne disease in the United States. According to data published in the current issue of CDC's Emerging Infectious Diseases, CDC's peer-reviewed journal that tracks new and reemerging infectious diseases worldwide, diseases caused by food may cause an estimated 325,000 serious illnesses resulting in hospitalizations, 76 million cases of gastrointestinal illnesses, and 5,000 deaths each year.

"While the U.S. food supply remains one of the safest in the world, these new findings further support what we have said all along: the public health burden of food-borne disease is substantial," said HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala. "Our investments in better tracking and surveillance systems have resulted in more complete data to help us evaluate ongoing and future food safety efforts. I urge Congress to help us continue to build upon our food safety programs -- we need to maintain our aggressive efforts on food safety, and we need to fully fund the President's food safety initiative."

The data being released today come from a variety of sources including new and existing surveillance systems, death certificates and published studies from academic institutions. According to CDC Director Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, these are the most complete estimates ever calculated and should not be compared to previous estimates since the estimates are a result of better information and new analyses rather than changes in disease frequency over time. These new estimates provide a snapshot of the problem and do not measure trends and do not indicate that the problem is getting better or worse. In addition, these new estimates include some diseases, such as those caused by E.coli O157:H7 and Norwalk-like viruses, that were not included in some previous estimates, he noted.

"Accurate estimates of disease burden are the foundation of sound public health policy," Dr. Koplan said. "We're extremely pleased to have a new baseline to measure our future efforts to improve food safety. Updated estimates of food-borne illness are needed to guide new prevention efforts and assess the effectiveness of food safety measures." These measures used 1997 as a baseline --- before key food safety programs were implemented.

Although the U.S. food supply is among the safest in the world, the nation increasingly faces new food safety challenges. Novel pathogens are emerging, and familiar ones are growing resistant to treatment. Since 1942, the number of known food-borne pathogens has increased more than five-fold. American consumers eat out more and cook for themselves less. They also eat more processed food than ever before, involving more people and more preparation, thus increasing the chance for disease-producing food-handling errors. In addition, the number of people most vulnerable to food-borne disease continues to grow: baby boomers are aging thus increasing their vulnerability to food-borne illness.

Since 1993, the Clinton Administration significantly has expanded food safety programs, increasing consumer protections to ensure that the U.S. food supply remains one of the safest in the world. Some improvements include: new safety standards for meat, poultry and seafood products, better surveillance for food-borne diseases through FoodNet, and a new Early Warning System implemented to improve our detection of outbreaks. In 1998, CDC launched a collaborative interagency initiative called PulseNet that uses DNA fingerprinting to better detect food-borne illness. Today, any one of the more than 35 laboratories in CDC's PulseNet network can fingerprint E. coli in less than 24 hours whereas the process used to take days or weeks.

Note: To receive an embargoed copy of the article call (404) 639-3286 or access the article on the Internet at


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