ATLANTA -- The Centers for Disease Control has released the most complete estimate to date on the incidence of foodborne disease in the United States, according to officials.
The data, published in the current issue of CDC's "Emerging Infectious Diseases," reports that foodborne diseases have resulted in an estimated 325,000 cases of serious illness requiring hospitalization, 76 million cases of gastrointestinal illness and 5,000 deaths each year. The findings were culled from a variety of sources, including new and existing surveillance systems, death certificates and published studies from academic institutions.
"Accurate estimates of disease burden are the foundation of sound public-health policy," said Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, CDC director. "Updated estimates of foodborne illness are needed to guide new prevention efforts and assess the effectiveness of food-safety measures. We're extremely pleased to have a new baseline to measure our future efforts to improve food safety."
Koplan added that these are the most complete estimates ever calculated and should not be compared with previous estimates. The new findings are the result of better information and new analyses as opposed to those in the past, which were based on changes in frequency over time, he said.
"Our investments in better tracking and surveillance systems have resulted in more complete data to help us evaluate ongoing and future food-safety efforts," said Donna E. Shalala, secretary of Health and Human Services. "We need to maintain our aggressive efforts on food safety, and we need to fully fund the president's food-safety initiative."
The Clinton administration has worked since 1993 to expand and improve upon food-safety programs. Some advancements include new safety standards for meat, poultry and seafood products, better surveillance for foodborne diseases and a new early-warning system implemented to improve outbreak detection.
To that end, the CDC launched a collaborative interagency initiative in 1998, called PulseNet. The program uses DNA fingerprinting to better detect foodborne illness. As a result, any one of the more than 35 laboratories in the PulseNet network can now fingerprint E. coli in less than 24 hours -- a process that used to take several days or sometimes even weeks.
The CDC maintains the food supply in the United States remains among the safest in the world, but the nation does face increasing challenges with regard to food safety. Established pathogens are building tolerance and growing resistant to treatment, while new ones continue to emerge. Add to this consumers' increasing dependency on restaurants and other prepared meals and processed foods, and the risk of contamination grows even more.
As proof of the augmented danger, current statistics show the number of known foodborne pathogens has increased more than five times in the past 60 years.
"These new findings further support what we have said all along," said Shalala. "The public-health burden of foodborne disease is substantial. I urge Congress to help us continue to build upon our food-safety programs."