The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that, together, four pathogens—Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157, Listeria monocytogenes, and Campylobacter—cause 1.9 million foodborne illnesses in the United States each year. Created by the CDC, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS), the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration (IFSAC) collects and analyzes outbreak data to produce an annual report with estimates of foods responsible for foodborne illnesses caused by pathogens.

IFSAC derived the estimates for 2017 using the same method used for the 2012 estimates, with some modifications. The data came from 1,329 foodborne disease outbreaks that occurred from 1998 through 2017 and for which each confirmed or suspected implicated food fell into a single food category. The method relies most heavily on the most recent five years of outbreak data (2013–2017). According to the new report:

  • Salmonella illnesses were broadly attributed across multiple food categories. More than 75% of Salmonella illnesses were attributed to seven food categories: Seeded vegetables (such as tomatoes), chicken, fruits, pork, eggs, other produce (such as nuts), and beef.
  • Escherichia coli O157 illnesses were most often linked to vegetable row crops (such as leafy greens) and beef. Nearly 75% of illnesses were linked to these two categories.
  • Listeria monocytogenes illnesses were most often linked to dairy products and fruits. More than 75% of illnesses were attributed to these two categories, but the rarity of Listeria monocytogenes outbreaks makes these estimates less reliable than those for other pathogens.
  • Nearly 80% of non-dairy foodborne illnesses were attributed to chicken, other seafood (such as shellfish), turkey, and other meat/poultry (such as lamb or duck), with Campylobacter illnesses most often linked to chicken. An attribution percentage for dairy is not included because, among other reasons, most foodborne Campylobacter outbreaks were associated with unpasteurized milk, which is not widely consumed, and experts think these over-represent dairy as a source of illness caused by Campylobacter. Removing dairy illnesses from the calculations highlights important sources of illness from widely consumed foods, such as chicken.

The updated estimates, combined with other data, may help shape agency priorities and inform the creation of targeted interventions that can help to reduce foodborne illnesses caused by these pathogens. As more data become available and methods evolve, attribution estimates may improve. These estimates are intended to inform and engage stakeholders and to improve federal agencies’ abilities to assess whether prevention measures are working.

Report (pdf)

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