Since the 1999 article by Mead PS, Slutsker L, Dietz V, McCaig LF, Bresee JS, Shapiro C, Griffin PM, Tauxe RV., Food-related illness and death in the United State have been estimated at approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year. Three pathogens, Salmonella, Listeria, and Toxoplasma, are responsible for 1,500 deaths each year, more than 75% of those caused by known pathogens, while unknown agents (a.k.a., norovirus) account for the remaining 62 million illnesses, 265,000 hospitalizations, and 3,200 deaths.

It is expected that the numbers above are likely to be adjusted downward soon. This is not because we have figured out a way not to poison as many people, but most likely a better way of counting actual ill people and the causes of the illnesses.

The Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) of CDC’s Emerging Infections Program has been conducting active, population-based surveillance in 10 U.S. states for all laboratory-confirmed infections with select enteric pathogens transmitted commonly through food. The trend lines per 100,000 population are as follows:

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In 2009, a total of 17,468 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection were identified. In comparison with the first 3 years of surveillance (1996–1998), sustained declines in the reported incidence of infections caused by Campylobacter, Listeria, Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O157, Shigella, and Yersinia were observed. The incidence of Vibrio infection continued to increase. Compared with the preceding 3 years (2006–2008), significant decreases in the reported incidence of Shigella and STEC O157 infections were observed.

When you deal daily with the aftermath of foodborne illnesses, the trend lines – although hopeful – are hard to keep in context. I am looking forward to the new CDC foodborne illness numbers.