Julie Jargon of The Wall Street Journal reports that roughly one in six Americans, or 48 million people, get sick each year from foodborne diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Approximately 128,000 of them are hospitalized and 3,000 die from the illnesses. Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. CEO Steve Ells is making an all-out effort to revive his chain’s fortunes after contaminated ingredients caused a spate of such illnesses, as The Wall Street Journal reports in a Page One article.
Here are five things to know about foodborne illnesses, according to the CDC:
- Which food items account for the most illnesses?
Produce is the most common contributor to foodborne illnesses, accounting for 46% of them between 1998 and 2008, followed by meat and poultry, dairy and eggs and fish and shellfish.
- Which pathogens are most responsible?
Norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne illness in the U.S., followed by salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter spp. and Staphylococcus aureus. The bacteria behind the Chipotle outbreak are called Shiga toxin-producing E.coli 026.
- How dangerous is E. coli 026?
This strain of E. coli can cause diarrhea and vomiting and sometimes lead to kidney failure. No one who contracted this kind of E. coli infection in the Chipotle outbreak died or was diagnosed with kidney failure, though 21 of the 55 ill people were hospitalized. A smaller E. coli outbreak sickened five more. Kidney failure and death is more often associated with the E. coli 0157 strain, which was the pathogen in the 1993 Jack in the Box outbreak that resulted in the deaths of four children.
- Is the rate of foodborne disease outbreaks growing?
Infections of E. coli O157 in 2014 decreased 32% when compared with 2006-2008. There has been no change in the number of overall Salmonella cases in 2014 versus 2006-2008. Campylobacter infections increased 13% during that time.
- How can I prevent getting a foodborne illness?
Frequent hand washing and washing of surfaces where food is prepared is critical. Cooking food thoroughly is another key way to prevent contamination. A food thermometer should be used to determine when an item is done. Steaks, for example, should be cooked until they reach an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Food should be kept at a temperature of 140 degrees after cooking because bacteria can grow as food begins to cool. Microwaved food should reach 165 degrees or higher. Perishable items should be refrigerated promptly. And raw meat and eggs should always be prepared separately from other foods.