Fast Facts Logo 4      
We are pleased to bring you the 16th edition of Fast Facts. This is a brief report on
local data that we believe you will find useful in both understanding and improving the
health of our community. Our goal is to keep it brief and instructive and to provide
opportunities for all persons to positively impact the issue. Please feel free to forward to colleagues, board members, legislators and others in the community.

This month we want to highlight foodborne illness, which is a common, expensive and yet preventable public health issue.

Foodborne Illness


Each year, 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases by consuming contaminated foods or beverages.[i] While over 250 agents can cause foodborne illness, there are eight pathogens that cause the most illness, hospitalization and death, including these five:    

  • Norovirus
  • Salmonella
  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Campylobacter
  • Staph aureus

Food becomes contaminated because we live in a microbial world, and there are many opportunities for food to become contaminated as it is produced and prepared. Many foodborne microbes are present in healthy animals (usually in their intestines) raised for food. Meat and poultry carcasses can become contaminated during slaughter by contact with small amounts of intestinal contents. Fresh fruits and vegetables can be contaminated if they are washed or irrigated with water that is contaminated with animal manure or human sewage.


In food establishments, other foodborne microbes can be introduced from infected humans who handle the food, or by cross-contamination from some other raw agricultural product. For example, shigella bacteria, hepatitis A virus and norovirus can be introduced by the unwashed hands of food handlers who are themselves infected. And in the kitchen, microbes can be transferred from one food to another food by using the same knife, cutting board, or other utensil to prepare both, without washing the surface or utensil in between.


From 2009-2010, among the outbreaks with a known single setting where food was consumed, 48% were caused by food consumed in a restaurant or deli and 21% by food consumed in a private home.[ii]


The severity of illness caused by foodborne infections can range from mild vomiting, diarrhea and gastrointestinal upset to death. For example, norovirus (aka "cruise ship disease") can cause explosive vomiting and diarrhea for 12 to 24 hours, while a recent listeria outbreak killed one person and left seven other people dangerously ill due to contaminated cheese.


Local Data


Our top five foodborne illnesses in Allen County: 


Hepatitis A2



The economic impact of foodborne illness is significant. In 2012, foodborne infections cost $77.7 billion dollars.[i] The average cost per case of foodborne illness was $1,626. [ii] This does not represent the total economic burden of foodborne illnesses, as it does not include costs to the food industry, including reduced consumer confidence, recall losses, or litigation, nor does it include the cost to public health agencies, local, state, and federal, that respond to illnesses and outbreaks. For example, in 2013, the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health spent nearly $45,000 responding to a potential hepatitis A exposure involving a food handler.   





What You Can Do


 As a health care provider:   

  • Be sure to send stool studies for patients who present with high fever, bloody diarrhea, and/or diarrhea that lasts for more than 7 days.
  • Be sure to send stool studies for patients with diarrhea who are food handlers, healthcare workers or daycare workers.

As a consumer: 

  • Follow these simple steps:
      • Cook meat, poultry and eggs thoroughly
      • Don't cross contaminate foods
      • Refrigerate leftovers promptly
      • Clean and wash produce
  • Report suspected foodborne illness to the Department of Health and cooperate with case investigations.

As a funder or public official: 


  •  Oppose legislation that de-regulates issues associated with food safety (such as allowing foods to be prepared and sold from a home, for example). 

  • Support local health department food inspection programs that conduct routine and complaint-based inspections to ensure food regulations are being followed to protect the public's health and safety.
  • Resources 


    • The Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health maintains on its website information and resources on safe food handling. You can also submit a food-related complaint. Go to and click on the Food & Consumer Protection division or click here.  Or call (260) 449-7561.
    Fast Facts is a collaboration of the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health and
    United Way 2-1-1 of Northeast Indiana
      Contact Deborah McMahan, MD or John Silcox
     c/o Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health