Foodborne illness occurs when food is contaminated with disease-causing organisms. These pathogens are usually bacteria that cause gastroenteritis, but harmful viral and parasitic food contaminants also exist. Proper food storage and preparation measures can prevent some cases of foodborne illness, but even when these measures are in place, foodborne illness has an alarmingly high prevalence.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the 2011 prevalence of foodborne illness is approximately 1 out of 6 Americans every year. This ratio corresponds to 48 million people in the country each year. Of these people, most just experience acute digestive illness that does not become life-threatening. However, a little over 125,000 individuals must be hospitalized for foodborne illness and approximately 3,000 foodborne illness-related deaths occur every year. These deaths occur in elderly individuals, young children, immunocompromised individuals and some healthy individuals.
The problem of foodborne illness is a worldwide health problem. Industrialized and developing countries are both affected by illness due to contaminated food and water. In 2005, approximately 1.8 million people worldwide died from diarrheal diseases resulting from contaminated food or water. It is difficult to obtain estimates of the number of illnesses caused by food contamination worldwide. In the United States alone, foodborne illness has an estimated cost of at least $35 million each year.
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