Top 5 Most Dangerous Food Pathogens

By Nicole German (RD, LD)

2631-1259076_untitled.jpgThe Emerging Pathogens Institute (EPI) has released its report on the top ten most dangerous food-pathogen combinations for the United States.

Food safety is often overlooked, but it costs billions of dollars each year and causes millions of illnesses. Let’s take a look at just the top 5 most dangerous pathogens.

  1. Salmonella costs $3.3 billion with over 1 million illnesses and 378 deaths.The most common source of Salmonella is poultry followed by mixed dishes. Contamination in mixed dishes is usually due to mishandling, cross contamination, or improper food temperatures. Tomatoes, sprouts, cantaloupe, and eggs were found to carry Samonella less often.
  2. Toxoplasma gondii costs $2.97 billion with over 86,000 illnesses and 327 deaths. Toxoplasma is the parasite that is ordinarily associated with cat litter. Normally, it is not harmful except to pregnant women and when ingested. There has been a greater emergence in foods such as rare, cured, or dried pork and beef.
  3. Listeria monocytogenes costs $2.65 billion with over 1500 illnesses and 255 deaths. Listeria was found as a primary threat in retail deli meats and soft unpasteurized cheeses like queso fresco. Other possible, but less likely sources of Listeria are unpasteurized milk, raw produce, raw meats, and raw fish.
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  5. Campylobacter (tied at third) costs $1.74 billion with over 845,000 illnesses and 76 deaths. Contaminated raw poultry was found to be the most common transmitter of this pathogen. Campylobacter can also be found in other raw meats
  6. Norovirus costs $2 billion with over 5 million illnesses and 149 deaths. Norovirus is sometimes referred to as the cruise ship virus because it can spread rapidly in communities sharing close quarters. Norovirus was most commonly found in mixed dishes from fecal contamination. Norovirus can be the result of not heating foods to a high enough temperature.

This report was not meant to be a warning message or to scare consumers. The FDA, USDA, and local state governments are in charge of major food safety precautions. Consumers should educate themselves and take proper precautions in order to avoid contamination such as maintaining safe food temperatures and avoiding cross contamination.


  1. mydermatologist

    The above mentioned list if very use full and help full to all of us. I think some more incident will be there.

  2. Ryan

    Also, I’m not sure what incidents you’re talking about, but sometimes raw milk takes the fall for a food outbreak even when most of the people who got the illness weren’t drinking raw milk, the milk and cows tested negative, and there were other foods that were being consumed that are likely candidates for illness (like deli meat).

    My favorite was an incident where the whole milk tested negative, but the cream and skim milk produced from it caused illnesses, so you could call it a “raw dairy outbreak” but it misled people about the cause.

  3. Ryan

    Raw vs pasteurized is weighing cow contamination vs processing contamination. If you have really good cow conditions, raw milk has lower incidence of illness. If you don’t and further exacerbate the problem by mixing milk from multiple cows/farms together, pasteurization drops more illnesses than you pick up in the processing/bottling/handling after you’ve killed off the good bacteria too.

    Neither is impervious.

  4. Spectra

    This is a pretty good list, but another source for Listeria contamination is sink drains–Listeria loves moisture and thrives in your sink. It’s not a bad idea to clean your sink with bleach at least once a week to kill anything that might be living in there. We’ve been seeing a lot of campy that is being caused by consumption of raw milk–I know there are people that swear by it, but unless you are 100% sure that your milk comes from very clean cows you should stick with the pasteurized stuff.

  5. MichaelD

    more irradiation.