CDC Finds Produce Most Common Cause Of Foodborne Illness

The Food Institute Report notes that some 46% of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. were attributable to produce, according to a study released in advance of publication in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases based on data from the Centers For Disease Control.

February 7, 2013

The Food Institute Report notes that some 46% of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. were attributable to produce, according to a study released in advance of publication in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases based on data from the Centers For Disease Control. The study investigates the specific causes of 13,352 foodborne disease outbreaks, which caused 271,974 illnesses, between 1998 and 2008. More than nine million persons in the U.S. experience a foodborne illness in the U.S. every year, and CDC undertook the study to assist FDA in prioritizing limited food safety resources across a large number of foods. 

For the study, CDC organized the large number of foods implicated in outbreaks in the U.S. into 17 mutually exclusive food commodities, and estimated the number of domestically acquired foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths attributable to the 17 commodities. The study defined three commodities for aquatic animals (fish, crustaceans, and mollusks), six for land animals (dairy, eggs, beef, game, pork, and poultry) and eight for plants (grains-beans; oils-sugars [refined plant foods]; fruits-nuts; fungi; and leafy, root, sprout, and vine-stalk vegetables). 

Of the 9.6 million estimated annual illnesses assessed, CDC, produce accounted for 46% of illnesses, while meat-poultry commodities such as beef, game, pork and poultry accounted for 22%. Among the 17 commodities, 2.1 million illnesses were associated with leafy vegetables (23%), more than any other commodity. 

Most bacterial illnesses were attributed to dairy (18%), poultry (18%) and beef (13%) commodities, while most chemical illnesses were attributed to fish (60%), of which the marine biotoxin ciguatoxin was responsible for the most illnesses. Most parasitic illnesses were attributed to mollusks (33%) and fruits-nuts (29%), and most viral illnesses were attributed to leafy vegetables (35%), fruits-nuts (15%) and dairy (12%). 

For the study, CDC developed a method to attribute domestically acquired foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S.to specific commodities by using outbreak data, finding most illnesses were attributed to plant commodities and most deaths to land animal commodities. While 46% of illnesses were attributed to produce; the large number of norovirus illnesses being a major driver of this result, more deaths were attributed to poultry than to any other commodity. In concluding the study, CDC stated its estimates indicate that food safety efforts are particularly necessary to prevent contamination of produce and poultry in the U.S. food industry.

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