Frequently cited statistics indicate that the burden of foodborne disease is a serious public health problem, particularly for vulnerable populations such as children. The purpose of the descriptive retrospective study discussed in this article was to analyze data collected within the Electronic Foodborne Outbreak Reporting System (eFORS) in school settings in order to examine the magnitude of foodborne disease etiologies and to recommend strategies for prevention. Data on foodborne outbreaks (N = 96) and illnesses (N = 6,567) were extracted and analyzed from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) eFORS spanning the years 2000 to 2004.
Health and Economic Burdens of Foodborne Illness
Frequently cited statistics indicate that the health and economic burden of foodborne disease is a serious public health problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 76 million people get sick, more than 325,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 die as a result of foodborne illnesses each year. In addition to the health burden, the economic burden of foodborne disease is staggering, with an estimated loss of productivity ranging between $20 and $40 million per year and the cost of hospitalization estimated at $3 billion per year. When considering the most vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, the immunocompromised, and the very young, foodborne diseases like norovirus are significant (Mead et al., 1999). According to Mead and co-authors (1999), norovirus accounts for an estimated 23 million cases per year in the U.S. and about 40% of these cases result from foodborne transmission. Of the estimated 23 million illnesses, 9.2 million are foodborne, representing 66.6% of total foodborne illnesses. The total estimated norovirus hospitalizations per year are 50,000, of which 20,000 are foodborne, representing 32.9% of total foodborne illnesses. The total number of estimated norovirus deaths per year is 310, of which 124 are foodborne, representing 6.9% of total foodborne illnesses.