U.S.: Contaminated food makes 1-in-6 sick

Jan. 29, 2013 at 4:49 PM
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ATLANTA, Jan. 29 (UPI) -- U.S. health officials say for the first time they have developed a comprehensive set of estimates of what foods are linked most to food-borne disease outbreaks.

The study by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention built on the estimates of food-borne illness published in 2011 that found 48 million people in the United States -- 1-in-6 -- get sick each year from food.

The paper, scheduled to be published in Emerging Infectious Diseases journal in March, focuses on known causes of illness and used data from nearly 4,600 outbreaks to estimate the number of illnesses that can be attributed to each of 17 food categories. Food-borne illnesses was attributed to all the 17 different food categories, the report said.

The study also found:

-- Produce -- a combination of six plant food categories -- accounted for nearly half of illnesses, though of course; fresh fruit and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet.

-- Meat and poultry -- four animal food categories -- accounted for fewer illnesses, but 29 percent of deaths.

-- Leafy vegetables accounted for the most illnesses.

-- Many of those illnesses -- 46 percent -- were caused by norovirus -- a virus that causes vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.

-- Poultry accounted for the most deaths at 19 percent; many of those were caused by Listeria and Salmonella infections. This is partly due to three large Listeria outbreaks linked to sliced processed turkey that occurred in the last decade, though fewer have occurred in recent years.

-- Norovirus continues to be the leading cause of food-borne outbreaks and the main cause of illness from produce. Frequently, sick food handlers are main carriers of the disease, said a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study concluded: "Food handlers should always practice good hand hygiene. Sick food handlers should not handle or prepare food. Food should be protected before it reaches the kitchen, for example, by using safe water for growing and irrigating crops to prevent contamination at the source."

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