Food Safety:

Information on Foodborne Illnesses

RCED-96-96: Published: May 8, 1996. Publicly Released: May 8, 1996.

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GAO reviewed the extent of foodborne illnesses caused by microbal contamination, focusing on: (1) the frequency, health consequences, and economic impacts of these illnesses; and (2) the extent of information available to develop effective control strategies.

GAO found that: (1) between 6.5 million and 81 million cases of foodborne illness and as many as 9,100 related deaths occur each year; (2) the risk of foodborne illness is increasing due to changes in food supply and consumption, recognition of new causes of foodborne illnesses, new modes of transmission, increased resistance to long-standing food-processing and storage techniques, and emerging virulent strains of well-known bacteria; (3) while foodborne illnesses are most often brief and do not require medical care, a small percentage cause long-term disability or even death; (4) foodborne illness may cost billions of dollars every year in medical costs and lost productivity; (5) the current voluntary reporting system does not provide sufficient data on the prevalence and sources of foodborne illnesses; (6) efforts are under way to collect more and better data on the prevalence and sources of foodborne illnesses; and (7) more uniform and comprehensive data on the number and causes of foodborne illnesses could lead to more effective control strategies.

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