It seems as though a new food-related health scare pops up every week. Potential Salmonella contamination has prompted the recall of peanut butter, lettuce, cantaloupe and dog food. Spinach and popcorn have been recalled because of listeria concerns. E. coli contamination has led to the recall of beef. Is anything safe to eat these days? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 5,000 people in the United States die each year from foodborne disease, and food contamination causes an estimated 76 million illnesses.
Ranking the deadliest foodborne illnesses is a tough task. The best starting point is CDC and National Health Institute information, but some of this information is obsolete and contradictory, as more recent data has become available. Some diseases, such as staphylococcal food poisoning, once killed hundreds of people a year, but kill far fewer now; on the other hand, several of the most deadly pathogens today, such as E. coli 0157:H7, campylobacter and listeria, were not even known to cause food-related illnesses 20 years ago. Given all this, here are some statistics on the deadliest foodborne illnesses in the United States. (Editor’s note: This article is not intended as a diagnostic tool. If you suspect you have one of these illnesses, contact a healthcare provider immediately.)