Officials Admit "Industrial" Food Poisons
at Least 76 Million People a Year in the USA

September 17, 1999

Study Puts U.S. Food-Poisoning Toll at 76 Million Yearly


WASHINGTON -- Although the United States
has one of the
safest food supplies in the world, about 76
million Americans
suffer food poisoning each year and about 5,000
die from it, the Federal
Government said on Thursday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in
Atlanta said the
estimates in a study it released today were the
most complete ever
compiled on food-borne illnesses (the agency
avoided the everyday term
"food poisoning") and were based on many sources,
including death
certificates, hospital surveys and academic

"These new estimates provide a snapshot of the
problem and do not
measure trends and do not indicate that the
problem is getting better or
worse," Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, the centers director,
said in a statement.

Dr. Paul S. Mead, a bacteria specialist at
centers, an author of the study,
said it contained no startling revelations from a
scientific standpoint. But
there are two conclusions that challenge earlier
findings by the agency.
The agency's estimate of annual illnesses caused
by food poisoning is
more than twice as high as that suggested in
earlier studies, which put the
figure at 30 million. Its estimate of deaths, on
the other hands, is much
lower than the old figure of 9,000.

The study does not address the safety of imported
foods. And it does not
lay blame on farmers or poultry producers or beef
processors or
supermarkets or restaurants, or any other link in
the American food
chain, although Dr. Mead said in a telephone
interview that updates of
the study might do so in future years.

"It's important that people not be alarmed by
these statistics," Dr. Mead
said, "but it's also important they take steps to
avoid becoming one of the

Many food-related illnesses can be avoided by
cooking hamburger
thoroughly, washing kitchen cutting boards well --
especially after they
are exposed to raw meat -- and drinking only
pasteurized milk, he said.

Donna E. Shalala, the Secretary of Health and
Human Services, said the
findings released today should persuade Congress
to enact food-safety
measures proposed by President Clinton. They
include legislation to give
Federal agencies greater authority over the food
industry and expand
inspections and research.

"The public-health burden of food-borne disease is
substantial," Dr.
Shalala said, although she did not differ with the
study's conclusion that
American food, over all, is safe.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a
Washington consumer
group, said the report showed that more than
common-sense kitchen
hygiene is needed. "The odds are 1 in 4 that
you'll get sick this year from
contaminated foods," said Caroline Smith DeWaal,
the center's
food-safety director, using the Federal
Government's estimate of 76
million illnesses a year. "In today's food-safety
lottery, odds are 1 in 840
that you'll be hospitalized and 1 in 55,000 that
you'll die. Those aren't
good odds for the American public."

Ms. DeWaal urged Congress to approve all the money
Clinton has
requested for his program (more than $100 million)
and said the White
House and Congress should go further by creating a
single powerful
agency with "farm-to-table" authority to regulate

The Grocery Manufacturers of America, a trade
group representing
many big food and beverage companies, said today
that it welcomed the
findings of disease centers study.

"We think this is long overdue," said Brian
Sansoni, a spokesman for the
group. But he said the group opposed creation of a
"super agency" as
cumbersome and unneeded.

The Federal study said food-borne diseases had
been grossly
underreported, in part because milder cases might
be mistaken for other
illness, or because the sufferer simply did not
bother to consult a doctor
once the symptoms had gone away. Even if a
sufferer does seek
treatment and the illness is diagnosed as
food-borne in nature, the doctor
or laboratory do not always relay the information
to public health

Deaths from food-related diseases -- if
overestimated in the past -- have,
paradoxically, also been underreported officially,
the study found.

Dr. Mead said the study contained no striking
findings about particular
kinds of foods or specific bacteria, viruses or
parasites. Not surprisingly,
the study linked various strains of salmonella to
a high percentage of
food-related illness.

But Dr. Koplan said reliable information --
surprising or not -- had never
been more important. New bacteria and viruses
evolve, and old ones
grow more resistant to treatment. Americans dine
out more, thus
entrusting their health to strangers.

And the baby-boomers are aging. The elderly, along
with children, are
the most vulnerable to food illness.