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The foodborne illnesses most likely to sicken you

by Aimee Keenan-Greene

Campylobacter bacteria and poultry is the pathogen/food combination causing the most foodborne illness in the US, according to a newreport.

The duo sickens more than 600,000 people a year, and costs $1.3 billion, says the University of Florida Emerging Pathogens Institute. 

Rounding out the top five, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenesin deli meats and soft cheeses, Toxoplasma gondii in pork and beef, and norovirus in multi-ingredient food products.

Cooking meat and poultry to the right temperatures, promptly chilling leftovers, and avoiding unpasteurized milk and cheese and raw oysters - all important steps to take to avoid foodborne illness according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC now estimates one out of every six people, nearly 48 million people, get sick every year from foodborne disease.  

Very young children are at high risk, as are the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

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

CDC's FoodNet surveillance system data, which tracks trends among common foodborne pathogens, has documented a 20 percent decrease in illnesses from key pathogens during the past 10 years.

These FoodNet pathogens make up only a small proportion of the illnesses included in the new estimates.

"People expect food to nourish them, not to harm them. So we need to intensify efforts to decrease the number of illnesses and deaths due to foodborne diseases," said Christopher Braden, M.D., director of CDC's Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases. "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. Much that remains unknown about how and why people get sick and we are committed to learning more in the future."

Nearly 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases, according to the new estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC encourages consumers to prevent foodborne infection by following safe food-handling and preparation tips of separating meats and produce while preparing foods.

Additional Resources:
The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases -  foodborne diseases.

For more information on safe food handling, check out the US Department of Agriculture.