One-Quarter of All Americans Sickened with Food PoisoningFeb 20, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP Food poisoning illnesses hit one in four American's annually, according to the Associated Press. The Web site Red Orbit reported the same figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and pointed out that only a few of these cases are associated with high-profile outbreaks, such as the ongoing and massive salmonella outbreak linked to tainted Peanut Company of America (PCA) products.
According to the CDC, food poisoning illnesses include serious diarrhea that lasts at least one day and might be accompanied with nausea, vomiting, and/or cramping. The CDC also warns that a physician should be consulted when a fever over 101.5; blood in the stool; prolonged vomiting; dizziness, decreased urination, or other signs of dehydration; and diarrhea lasting more than three days, are present.
Citing the CDC, the AP and Red Orbit noted that experts found that there are actually over 250 types of food-related sickness that include viruses, bacteria, and parasites. The most common are among the Norwalk group of viruses, accounting for the majority—about two-thirds—of known food poisoning cases, said the CDC. Campylobacter and salmonella bacterium are the next most common, comprising about 14 and 10 percent, respectively. There are also botulism, listeria, and E. coli, to name a few. And, of course, for each pathogen, there are numerous strains that can make people ill.
Both the AP and Red Orbit also noted that ten years ago, the CDC estimated that, annually, there were 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths; now, the numbers are, said the AP, at 87 million illnesses, 371,000 hospitalizations, and 5,700 deaths a year. But, the CDC can only track confirmed cases—those that receive lab testing. Because most people do not see a doctor when afflicted with food poisoning, health officials feel that there are at least three-dozen salmonella cases that go unreported for every case that is reported, said the AP. This means, said the AP, the figure of those who have fallen ill in the current salmonella outbreak would be at an astounding 20,000 people.
The figures are daunting, and some trends have researchers seriously concerned that there is no end in sight and that the situation is only becoming worse in this country. The AP pointed to, for example, a 2003 hepatitis A outbreak that originated from green onions; a bagged spinach outbreak in 2006, said the AP; and the current salmonella outbreak that has sickened hundreds, been associated with nine deaths, has resulted in thousands of recalls, and is leading to bankruptcies in the industry.
There was also last year’s massive salmonella outbreak that was ultimately found to have originated with Mexican tomatoes and peppers, which sickened over 1,400 people in North America, noted the AP.
The problem is exacerbated by mega-farms, -processing centers, and –distribution interests, and the fact that not all of the food consumed in the U.S. is grown in this country, and that food protection agencies are fragmented, with overlaps and gaps occurring within the industry.