Eighty percent of foodborne illness from unknown agents

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Foodborne disease strikes one in 6 Americans each year.

In a new report of foodborne illness in the United States, the CDC says 80 percent are the result of unknown agents. The findings are the most accurate to date showing the magnitude of disease from food contamination.

CDC Director Thomas Frieden, M.D, M.P.H. says, "We've made progress in better understanding the burden of foodborne illness and unfortunately, far too many people continue to get sick from the food they eat."

FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. says, "We must, and can, do better by intensifying our efforts to implement measures that are prevention-oriented and science-based."

She adds, "We are moving down this path as quickly as possible under current authorities but eagerly await passage of new food safety legislation that would provide us with new and long overdue tools to further modernize our food safety program."

The number one cause of hospitalizations and deaths from foodborne illness was Salmonella. There are 7 known pathogens causing humans to become ill that include Salmonella, norovirus, Campylobacter, Toxoplasma, E.coli O157, Listeria and Clostridium perfringens that account for 90 percent of sickness from food contaminated with bacteria.


Norovirus accounts for 60 percent of food borne disease and is now known not to be spread by food.

The current report shows a 20 percent decrease in food related illnesses, in part from the fact that we now know norovirus is not spread from food. The CDC says past trends from the CDC's FoodNet surveillance system data that tracks trends among common foodborne pathogens cannot be compared to 1999. Another reason for the decrease is from more precise data collection and methodology.

Christopher Braden, M.D., director of CDC's Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases says, "We now know more than ever what pathogens are causing the most harm, and we will continue our work to help protect people from these illnesses."

The CDC says consumer must also take an active role in preventing the spread of disease from contaminated food. Separate meats, follow preparation guidelines and chill leftovers. The agency also says avoid unpasteurized milk and cheese and raw oyster.

Foodborne illness is estimated to sicken one in six Americans each year, results in 3000 deaths and 128,000 hospitalizations. Though much is known about food borne diseases, 80 percent, or 38 million illnesses, that occur each year from food are the result of agents not yet recognized or not yet discovered.

Source: CDC Press Release