Foodborne illness: is it on the rise?


DG Nyachuba, Department of Nutrition, Chenoweth Laboratory Room 204, University of Massachusetts Amherst, 100 Holdsworth Way, Amherst, MA 01003, USA. E-mail:, Phone: +1-413-545-0552, Fax: +1-413-545-1074.


Foodborne illness is a serious public health threat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 76 million foodborne illnesses, including 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths, occur in the United States each year. Two recently published Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) reports showed that Salmonella, Campylobacter, Shigella, Cryptosporidium, and Shiga toxin Escherichia coli (STEC) O157 continue to be leading causes of both the number and incidence of laboratory-confirmed foodborne infections in the United States. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), foodborne illness costs the US economy $10–83 billion per year. Recent large foodborne outbreaks have led to claims that the number of foodborne disease outbreaks and concomitant illnesses has increased in recent years. However, a comparison of data from the CDC showed very little change in the incidence of foodborne illness caused by common pathogens between 2008 and the preceding 3 years (2005–2007). Nevertheless, despite intensified prevention efforts, foodborne illness remains a persistent problem in the United States. Food can become contaminated at any point in the farm-to-table continuum, as well as in consumers' own kitchens. Therefore, foodborne illness risk reduction and control interventions must be implemented at every step throughout the food preparation process, from farm to table. In addition, more effective food safety education programs for foodhandlers and consumers are needed. Strategies should take into account food safety-related trends including large-scale production and wide distribution of food, globalization of the food supply, eating outside of the home, emergence of new pathogens, and growing population of at-risk consumers.