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10 Surprising Food Poisoning Statistics and Discoveries

Updated on January 10, 2015

Copyright 2012 - Kris Heeter, Ph.D.

When sick with an upset stomach, it's often hard to know why and what caused it - one likely cause could be food poisoning.

If you've ever had food poisoning, you will undoubtedly agree, it's no fun!

The number of food poisoning cases is much higher that I every would have guessed and the exact cause or source is not always obvious. With the new research coming out on food poisoning statistics and long term consequences, we should all perhaps be a little more concerned about the risks associated with eating contaminated food.

Below are ten statistics and new research discoveries that I found interesting - some are alarming:

1. Russian Roulette - the frequency of food poisoning

Whether you eat out frequently or eat at home, there is a significant chance that you will eat contaminated food at some point.

According to U.S. government statistics, 1 in 6 Americans will get sick from food poisoning each year.

2. How many different types of pathogens or microbes are associated with food poisoning?

It is estimated that there are more than 100,000 different types of foodborne pathogens that can cause illness.

There is a major collaboration that began this year (2012) to create a database that will enable the microbes and parasites that can cause food contamination to be identified more readily.

The hope is that this will enable contaminates to be found more readily before the food goes to market.

3. Startling number of unidentified food poisons

This statistic floored me at first:

In 2011, the number of “unspecified pathogens” were predicted to cause 38.4 million illnesses, hospitalize 71,878, and kill 1,686 people.

But, once you take into account that doctors and scientists have only identified a small subset of the predicted 100,000 foodborne pathogens (see second fact above), this statistic isn’t as surprising but, still scary!

Speaking of scary statistics, try this next one on for size…


4. An average of 1 in 5 supermarket chickens found contaminated with bacteria

A study conducted by the Health Protection Agency (a watchdog consumer group in the UK) discovered 18% of the chickens tested from nine leading supermarkets were contaminated with bacteria known to cause food poisoning – specifically Campylobacter. In addition, 17% contained Listeria and 1.5% were contaminated with Salmonella.

5. Delayed food poisoning - you may never know what caused it

Typically most people suspect food poisoning if they get suddenly ill within a few hours of eating.

However, many may not realize that certain types of microbes cause a delayed reaction. For example, there are some strains E. coli that cause illness by making a toxin called Shiga toxin. Those that ingest Shiga toxin-producing E. coli usually get sick between Day 2 and Day 8 after eating the contaminated food.

The Shiga toxin-producing E. coli are sometimes often referred to as “STEC” but within this same class are verocytotoxic E. coli (VTEC) or enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC).

6. Food poisoning that can lead to urinary tract infections

Researchers from McGill University have discovered that contaminated chicken may be the source for the E. coli that causes painful urinary tract infections in women.

In the U.S. alone, there are six to eight million urinary tract infections (UTI) are diagnosed each year. The direct healthcare costs for uncomplicated UTI cases reaches as much as $2 billion per year.

7. Food poisoning that can increase the risk for diabetes, kidney failure, arthritis, cancer and other long-term diseases

There is a significant amount of research coming out that points to the conclusion that people affected by food poisoning outbreaks are more likely to develop a long-term illness down the road, diseases like: diabetes, arthritis, kidney failure, high blood pressure, cancer, heart attacks and strokes.

For example, a fungal species that contaminates food produces a toxin that causes "Aflatoxicosis" - a condition that can lead liver cancer.


8. A common food preservative can actually increase bacterial toxins in contaminated food

Acetic acid is a common food preservative used to stop bacterial growth in dressings, sauces, cheese and pickles.

However, research suggests that small amounts of acetic acid can actually increase the amount of toxin released from the harmful bacteria in the food. When exposed to acetic acid, bacteria become stressed and when under stress, they produce more toxins.

9. Salmonella food poisoning – mutants strains now 100x more dangerous!

A new and more dangerous strain of Salmonella was discovered earlier this year by researchers at University of California (Santa Barbara).

This new strain has been labeled as “hypervirulent” -meaning it is more virulent than common Salmonella strains - and it can override current vaccines.

There are 100,000+ cases of Salmonella food poisoning each year in the United States. Humans usually get Salmonella food poisoning from eating contaminated beef, chicken, eggs, fruits, or vegetables.

It is estimated that Salmonella food poisoning costs the U.S around $14.6 billion each year.

10. Some good news: Common bacteria that causes food poisoning can be reengineered to do some good

Listeria monocytogenes, one of the more common bacterial species that causes food poisoning, has been genetically modified by researchers.

The reengineered version can be programmed to deliver medicine or vaccines to patients. This holds the potential for delivering medication that does not require swallowing pills or injections.

Related Articles of Interest

4 Types of Food Poisoning and Common Causes - There are many different types and causes of food poisoning. Common causes of food poisoning in the United States come from four classes of bacteria. Learn what those causes are and the symptoms of E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, and Botulism food poisoning.

5 Ways to Prevent Food Poisoning - There are several ways to prevent food poisoning and increase food safety both at home and when eating out. Learn 5 simple tips with this article.


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    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      @DrivingPeace - that's a really good point. The symptoms are so similar so unless someone gets tested, it's often impossible to know if it's food poisoning or the 24-hour flu!

    • DrivingPeace profile image

      Greg Weber 5 years ago from Montana

      Point #5 is particularly interesting. Makes you wonder how many of the sick days people take for "flu" or "some stomach bug" are actually delayed reactions to food poisoning. Very informative and a great hub!

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      @Techicated - so sorry to hear that. Some cases of food poisoning can be really brutal and can last for what seems like forever!

    • Techicated profile image

      Kathryn Kutny 5 years ago from New York State

      Last Mother's Day, I went out to eat somewhere with my Husband and Daughter. I started feeling run down when I went to the mall. That night I got very sick and I was sick for alittle over a week. I had to go to the hospital. They checked me and found I got Semolina Poisoning. It was the worst sickness I have ever had. Its was so painful. I cried so much and was always in constant pain. I'm so glad I got better.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      @divacratus - thanks for stopping by. I passed up eating fish out this this past weekend for this reason. I agree, there is a much bigger chance of getting it from eating out!

    • divacratus profile image

      Kalpana Iyer 5 years ago from India

      Thankfully I haven't suffered from food poisoning in a long time. The last time I had it, I nearly went crazy. It wasn't from home cooked food, got it by eating fish at a restaurant which tasted weird. Chances are more if you eat from outside home. Thanks for sharing these details. Interesting. Voted up!

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 5 years ago from Arizona

      Pretty scary. I had food poisoning once and hope never to again. It is a horrid experience. thanks for all this enlightenment. I am voting up and sharing.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      @Brittanie221 - thanks for stopping by. I was surprised too at the large number! I also found it interesting that some takes up residence and can cause problems later, down the line.

    • Brittanie2216 profile image

      Brittanie Pervier 5 years ago from Seattle WA

      This is really interesting information I had no idea that there are so many different bacteria you can get food poisoning from. Thanks for sharing.


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