NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Every year, some 48 million people, or roughly one of every six Americans, get sick from food poisoning, according to two new reports from the Centers for Disease Control. Of those who get sick, about 128,000 need to be hospitalized and 3,000 die each year.
As menacing as these numbers may be, it represents an improved outlook compared to previous government estimates. The last report from the CDC on this subject was released back in 1999, and found that one in four Americans suffered from foodborne illnesses each year and 5,000 people died from it.
But according to the CDC, this change is mostly the product of a more accurate analysis of health data, rather than better food safety standards.
"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," said CDC Director Thomas Friedan.
The report found that the vast majority of foodborne illnesses are due to seven pathogens including salmonella, e.coli and listeria. Salmonella in particular was found to be the leading cause of more serious illnesses and was responsible for about a third of hospitalizations and 28% of deaths from food poisoning. Norovirus, an infection that causes diarrhea and vomiting, was found to cause the majority of less serious foodborne illnesses.
The CDC timed the release of this report to come out now partly because Congress is currently debating a massive food safety bill that could help improve food production and potentially reduce the prevalence of foodborne illnesses. The bill has already been approved by the Senate and must now be approved by the House of Representatives.
In the meantime, if you are worried about food safety, particularly during the holidays when you’re probably eating a bit more than usual, there are some simple steps to reduce the chances of getting food poisoning. Be sure to store meats and perishable items at temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and allow adequate time for the food to thaw if it has been frozen. And of course, make sure to wash your hands before and after handling your foods.