Suggested Citation: Garko, M.G. (2011, September).  Foodborne illness and Food Safety- Part I: Introduction to a series on a worldwide public health problem. Health and Wellbeing Monthly. Retrieved (insert month, day, year), from


Foodborne Illness and Food Safety – Part I: Introduction

To A Series On A Worldwide Public Health Problem    


Michael G. Garko, Ph.D.

Host – Let’s Talk Nutrition


Foodborne illness and food safety are inextricably linked and complicated public health problems for developed and developing countries. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is difficult to estimate the global incidence of foodborne illness and disease. Nevertheless, the WHO reported that just in the year 2005 1.8 million people died from diarrhoeal diseases, with the greater proportion of those deaths being attributed to the contamination of food and drinking water (see World Health Organization, 2007). As one might be suspect, there exists a wide range of foodborne diseases in developing countries and the abnormally high prevalence of diarrhoeal diseases in these countries serves as empirical evidence that food safety problems are an underlying cause of them (World Health Organization, 2007).


Foodborne illness is a major health concern for developed countries as well. For example, the most recent and reliable data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that in the United States, approximately one in six people (i.e., 48 million) becomes sick from a foodborne illness (also incorrectly referred to as food poisoning), while 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne bacteria, viruses pathogenic microbes (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011).


In developed countries such as the United States, the risk of being afflicted with a foodborne illness is most often likely to occur because of the type of food being consumed, cross-contamination of foods, increased consumption of raw foods, being chronically ill, elderly or pregnant, being an unborn baby, young child or infant or suffering from a weakened immune system (e.g., people sick with HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease or transplant patients). These risk factors, along with poverty, lack of education, poor hygiene, contaminated food, water and eating utensils and coming in contact with pathogenic-ridden animals or their living environments are some of the primary risk factors associated with foodborne illnesses and diseases in developing countries (see King et al., 2000; United States Department of Agriculture, 2011).


Foodborne illnesses and diseases are directly or indirectly caused by a lack of food safety. All of the risk factors associated with foodborne illness and disease track back eventually to the issue of food safety. Food safety involves the conditions and practices involved in the safe managing of food including the growing, distribution, packing, preparation, handling and storage of food in ways to preserve its quality and prevent contamination and, thereby, prevent or at least reduce the likelihood of foodborne illness and disease). The WHO reported recently that “[i]n industrialized countries, the percentage of the population suffering from foodborne diseases each year has been reported to be up to 30% and that “[g]overnments all over the world are intensifying their efforts to improve food safety [because of] “an increasing number of food safety problems and rising consumer concerns”




Foodborne illness and disease not only get people sick they can also kill them. Consequently, food safety is in the front lines of preventing people from becoming sick or dying from a foodborne illness or disease.


This September, 2011, issue of Health and Wellbeing Monthly is the first in a series of articles exploring foodborne illness and food safety. Upcoming issues will continue to explore this important public health concern in considerable depth.  




Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011). 2011 Estimates of foodborne illness in the United States. Retrieved August 1, 2011, from Foodborne Estimates/


King, J.C., Black, R.E., Doyle, M.P., Fritsche, K.L., Halbrook, B.H., Levander, O.A., Meydani, S.N., Walker, A., & Woteki, C.E. (2000). Foodborne illness and nutritional status: A statement from an American society for nutritional sciences working group. Journal of Nutrition, 130, 2613-2617.


United States Department of Agriculture (2011). Foodborne illness: What consumers need to know. Retrieved August 5, 2011, from


World Health Organization (2007). Food safety and foodborne illness. Fact sheet number 237. Retrieved August 1, 2011, from


Updated September 9, 2011.


Suggested Citation: Garko, M.G. (2011, September).  Foodborne illness and Food Safety – Part I: Introduction to a series on a worldwide public health problem. Health and Wellbeing Monthly. Retrieved (insert month, day, year), from