University of Maryland Extension

Foodborne Illness in America

About foodborne illness:

Although the food supply in the United States is considered one of the safest in the world, illness, hospitalizations, and deaths caused by foodborne illness remain a significant public health challenge worldwide. 

  • Currently, the CDC estimate that in America 48 million people get sick, over 128,000 are hospitalized, and at least 3,000 people die each year from foodborne illness caused by contaminated foods.
  • It is widely believed that the real numbers are much higher, because the symptoms of foodborne illness mimic those of the flu. When people become ill they often do not seek medical attention.
  • The economic burden of foodborne illness is estimated to be $77.7 billion dollars, which is spent towards health related costs and loss of productivity (Scharff, 2012).

Safe steps in food handling

  • Safe steps in food handling— shopping, preparing, cooking, and storing food are essential to prevent foodborne illness.
  •  You cannot see, smell, or taste harmful bacteria that may cause illness. Follow the four steps of the Food Safe Families campaign to keep food safe: Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill.

Who are the most vulnerable to foodborne illness?

  • Pregnant women
  • Young children <5 years
  • Older adults >50 years
  • Immunocompromised
    • E.g. Diabetics, organ transplant recipients…

What is a foodborne outbreak?

  • Foodborne illness can sporadically strike an individual or occur as an outbreak.

  • Foodborne outbreaks are when two or more individuals encounter the same symptoms after ingesting a common food.

Who monitors foodborne cases?

The Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, also known as FoodNet. Established in July 1995, FoodNet continues to actively monitor and record the magnitude of both sporadic cases of foodborne illness and outbreaks.

FoodNet is a collaborative effort between the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

FoodNet communicates with clinical laboratories in 10 states (Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, California, Colorado, and New York), and selected counties, in order for its surveillance to represent 15% of the US population.

 FoodNet: Foodborne Pathogens Monitored for Sporadic Infections

FoodNet conducts active laboratory-based surveillance for foodborne pathogens to better estimate the rate of sporadic illness by specific pathogens.

 These pathogens include:

 For additional information about selected microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, parasites, molds, and allergens) 

 FoodNet data on Maryland

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