Here Are Some of the Most Common Causes of Food Poisoning

A raw chicken breast sits on a cutting board.
(Image credit: Raw chicken photo via Shutterstock)

Millions of Americans deal with the misery of food poisoning each year, and a new report looks at some of the most common germs that made people sick in 2017.

The report, published yesterday (March 22) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), analyzed information from a database that tracks food poisoning cases at 10 labs across the U.S. and covers 49 million people. The researchers looked for nine pathogens commonly transmitted by food, including seven types of bacteria and two types of parasites.

The most commonly reported foodborne illness germ was Campylobacter, a bacterium that is often found in raw poultry. There were about 19 Campylobacter infections per 100,000 people in 2017, according to the report. [Top 7 Germs in Food that Make You Sick]

The second-most-common germ was Salmonella, which caused about 16 infections per 100,000 people, followed by Shigella and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), each of which caused about 4 infections per 100,000 people.

There was a 10-percent increase in the rate of Campylobacter infections and a 28-percent increase in the rate of STEC infections in 2017, compared with 2014-2016, the report found. However, some of these increases may have been due to the use of a relatively new type of lab test, called culture-independent diagnostic tests, which allow researchers to test for foodborne pathogens by looking for proteins or genetic material tied to the pathogens, rather than growing the germs in lab dishes. These tests can detect bacteria and other pathogens more easily than older tests, and are being used more and more frequently, the report said.

But researchers did see a 35-percent decrease in infections with E. coli O157, a type of STEC, in 2017 compared with 2006-2008, which mirrors a drop in E. coli O157 germs detected in ground beef over the same period, the report said.

The overall rate of Salmonella infections was about the same in 2017 as it was in 2014-2016, but there was a drop in the rate of infections with two particular strains of Salmonella, called typhimurium and Heidelberg. These declines may be due, in part, to steps to vaccinate chickens against these strains of Salmonella, as well as other measures to prevent contamination of meat products, the report said.

The researchers concluded that "more control measures are needed" to prevent foodborne illness, including possibly "new or revised meat and poultry performance standards, and enhanced training and guidance for industry and inspection personnel."

The CDC estimates that 48 million people in the United States get sick with foodborne illness each year. The new report did not include rates of norovirus infection, which causes an estimated 20 million cases of illness each year.

Original article on Live Science.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.