The actual number of Americans who die from food poisoning is a matter of conjecture. Statisticians at the CDC in Atlanta have estimated that at least 5,000 Americans die every year from something they ate. According to federal records based on death certificates, only 1,370 Americans died of infectious intestinal diseases in 2000. Food- and water-based deaths rose to 1,586 in 2001, to 2,496 in 2002 and to 3,142 in 2003, the most recent year available. In an attempt to demystify food-related sickness, Scripps Howard News Service conducted a demographic analysis of the 3,142 Americans who were reported to have died from intestinal infections in 2003.
A majority of those deaths, almost 84 percent, occurred in people over 70 years of age. Women accounted for almost 65 percent of the total. More than half the people who died were widowed. Married people accounted for 33 percent and people who never married accounted for only 7 percent of the deaths. Blacks accounted for only 6 percent of the reported deaths, or only half their proportion of the general population. Whites accounted for 93 percent, and other racial minorities just 1 percent. Of the total, 81 percent of the people died in hospitals, but more worrisome is the fact that 13 percent of people died at home, indicating that they did not seek or receive medical help. Almost 80 percent of the deaths occurred in metropolitan areas.