After long last the CDC released its new numbers on CDC Estimates of Foodborne Illness in the United States and they are still problematic – CDC estimates that each year roughly 1 out of 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases.  See, Foodborne Illness Acquired in the United States—Major Pathogens and Foodborne Illness Acquired in the United States—Unspecified Agents.

Major Pathogens

Estimates of foodborne illness can be used to direct food safety policy and interventions. We used data from active and passive surveillance and other sources to estimate that each year 31 major pathogens acquired in the United States caused 9.4 million episodes of foodborne illness (90% credible interval [CrI] 6.6–12.7 million), 55,961 hospitalizations (90% CrI 39,534–75,741), and 1,351 deaths (90% CrI 712– 2,268). Most (58%) illnesses were caused by norovirus, followed by nontyphoidal Salmonella spp. (11%), Clostridium perfringens (10%), and Campylobacter spp. (9%). Leading causes of hospitalization were nontyphoidal Salmonella spp. (35%), norovirus (26%), Campylobacter spp. (15%), and Toxoplasma gondii (8%). Leading causes of death were nontyphoidal Salmonella spp. (28%), T. gondii (24%), Listeria monocytogenes (19%), and norovirus (11%). These estimates cannot be compared with prior (1999) estimates to assess trends because different methods were used. Additional data and more refined methods can improve future estimates.

Unspecified Agents

Each year, 31 major known pathogens acquired in the United States caused an estimated 9.4 million episodes of foodborne illness. Additional episodes of illness were caused by unspecified agents, including known agents with insufficient data to estimate agent-specific illness, known agents not yet recognized as causing foodborne illness, substances known to be in food but of unproven pathogenicity, and unknown agents. To estimate these additional illnesses, we used data from surveys, hospital records, and death certificates to estimate illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths from acute gastroenteritis and subtracted illnesses caused by known gastroenteritis pathogens. If the proportions acquired by domestic foodborne transmission were similar to those for known gastroenteritis pathogens, then an estimated 38.4 million (90% credible interval [CrI] 19.8–61.2 million) episodes of domestically acquired foodborne illness were caused by unspecified agents, resulting in 71,878 hospitalizations (90% CrI 9,924–157,340) and 1,686 deaths (90% CrI 369–3,338).

Here is a handy visual guide to the new numbers.

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 Here is also a great article on how to explain the above numbers and compare it to the 1999 Mead estimates of 76,000,000 illnesses, 325,000 hospitlizations and 5,000 deaths related to food.  See, How Safe Is Our Food?

  • All these stats…Much of these conditions are fostered and/or enabled by the mishandling of the food product by the sellers and our government seems to be focussed on doing everything it can to prevent those harmed from seeking justice rather than prevent the mishandling. Where did we go wrong?

  • Carl Custer

    Salmonellosis rocks on . . . for the past four decades.

  • Steve Gilman

    ….and what do the food contamination numbers REALLY look like when you include all the toxic chemicals used in conventional food PRODUCTION…. from insecticides and herbicides to fungicides and synthetic fertilizers that are used on and in (ie. systemic pesticides) our daily food….????
    The microbial numbers are really just the tip of the iceberg….

  • Gabrielle Meunier

    Its a small world and I bet Bill that you must either know or know of most of those 3,000 deaths . . .

  • Following the lead of the 1999 Mead study, the authors of these important estimates are presenting them in such a misleading way that almost everyone fundamentally misunderstands the actual methodology used to estimate the total illnesses (47,800,000), total hospitalizations (127,837) and total deaths (3,037) due to all foodborne agents.
    The article and the easy read materials give the impression that the totals were calculated as follows:
    estimate due to 31 known pathogens + estimate due to “unspecified agents” = estimated total for illnesses or hospitalizations or deaths.
    The equation is correct but it was NOT the formula used. This is a case of something being literally true AND ALMOST COMPLETELY MISLEADING.
    What actually happened was the estimate for the total for each category (illnesses, hospitalizations & deaths) was computed ONLY from data on acute gastroenteritis. The totals are NOT based in any way upon data from actual foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths.
    This is the same basic methodology developed and used in the 1999 Mead study and was refuted by Paul D. Frenzen in September 2004 in “Deaths due to Unknown Foodborne Agents” ( Thus, the totals are only marginally more reliable than those of Mead.
    I have no question that the editors of “Emerging Infectious Diseases” involved in the publishing of these papers, have failed in their responsibility to provide clear, accurate, scientific information. I find this particularly appalling as the CDC is so tardy in providing updated estimates and have done so just as the final votes are being taken on the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
    If anyone has any questions or wishes to dispute what I’ve asserted, please write me at

  • I have realized that the comment I made at 9:35 AM contains a substantial error. I clearly needed a peer reviewer. Some readers may already have seen my error. I ask that everyone ignore my earlier comment while I reconsider it.
    If anyone still wants to critique it, I will happily receive any critique at and respond.
    I will make another comment later to correct my mistake after I finish reconsidering it. I hope to have a new comment up tomorrow morning.
    I apologize for any confusion I have caused.