One part of the interminable debate in the UK about leaving the EU has been a debate about what the UK would have to agree to if they do trade deals with other countries. In an interview with BBC radio 4 (reported in the Guardian) the US ambassador said this:

“The president has made it pretty clear he would love to have a robust trade deal with the UK. But any trade deal that we do with the UK will have to include agriculture. Agriculture is extremely important to the president,” he told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme.

In objecting to this, campaigners have protested that US agriculture standards are much worse than those currently in force in the UK. One claim is that food poisoning is much worse in the USA largely due to worse standards and animal husbandry. One campaign group claims (among other things):

The US reports higher rates of illness from foodborne illness than in the UK. Annually, 14.7% (48m) of the US population suffer from an illness, versus 1.5% (1m) in the UK. This is nearly ten times the percentage of population.

The BBC (perhaps more objectively than the campaign group) reports different numbers:

The US government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are about 1.3 million illnesses from campylobacter and 1.2 million illnesses from salmonella a year, affecting about 0.4% of the population...

Across the UK in 2017, there were 63,946 confirmed cases of infection from campylobacter and 10,089 infections from salmonella, equating to 0.1% and 0.02% of the population respectively. ...

The death rate from salmonella in the US is far higher than in the UK, where fatalities are rare. In the US, the CDC estimates there are 450 deaths from salmonella a year.

In contrast in the interview the US ambassador claimed the USA had the lowest rate of food poisoning.

Different sources seem to be claiming that the USA has 4-10 times more food poisoning than the UK; the US ambassador claims the USA is better. Who is right (bonus question which sources and stats should we be comparing to get a fair comparison)?

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    Your question has a couple of reasonably sourced statistics of different types that agree with each other (all say the US has more issues with food poisoning than the UK; some statistics focus on specific pathogens and others do not, some focus on deaths rather than illness, but they are all consistent), and one statement from an individual who vaguely stated the opposite without support. I don't quite understand why your question is not its own answer. Mar 7, 2019 at 16:55
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    For what it's worth, those "campaign group" numbers link directly to the CDC for the US rate. The UK link 404s for me, but I assume it's from the Food Standards Agency, judging by the link. It's not like they're pulling these numbers from overly biased sources.
    – Is Begot
    Mar 7, 2019 at 16:57
  • @BryanKrause Fair point, but the claim that the US is as good as the UK has been made (however crazy the claim may be) and this site wants the answer to be separate from the question. Plus, the stats quoted were inconsistent in how much worse the US is and I though good answer could clarify which sources were the most relevant and reliable.
    – matt_black
    Mar 7, 2019 at 17:03
  • While the statistics may or may not be of particular relevance to something; One thing they are of no relevance to is concluding that those statistics have anything to do with US agricultural standards and not just the result of poor hygiene and food safety by some subset of the citizens themselves. There's about half of the US citizens that expect the government to do everything for them and it is likely that would include putting their food in the refrigerator for them.
    – Dunk
    Mar 7, 2019 at 22:35
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    @Dunk While there is nothing a government can do to combat stupidity, it can enforce good standards in agricultural practice and food preparation. So the number of food poisoning cases depends on those standards as well as individual stupidity. Unless you have stats showing that restaurants and pathogens present in foods because of agricultural practice are insignificant as a source of food poisoning, your point is irrelevant.
    – matt_black
    Mar 8, 2019 at 11:44

2 Answers 2


Statistics in the UK are presented separately for England and Wales, and other regions. Salmonella infections in particular are covered here. The latest published statistics are from 2016 and say that (page 11) there were zero deaths from "Foodborne outbreaks of non-typhoidal Salmonella in England and Wales in 2016".

From The CDC website,

CDC estimates Salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations, and 450 deaths in the United States every year

England and Wales population is approx 66M, US approx 328M. The annual rate of salmonella deaths seems to be 0.0 per million in England and Wales, and 1.4 per million in the US.

For this particular infection, it does seem true that the rate of food poisoning in the US is much worse than the UK.

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    I'd suggest including that the estimate of deaths reported by the CDC for non-typhoidal Salmonella is an estimate, and the 90% credible interval from the report includes 0. See table 3 in the study that produced the estimate
    – De Novo
    Mar 10, 2019 at 6:35

I'm having trouble finding comparable data for the UK, but some preliminary fact-checking on the US side suggest that the numbers quoted above are exaggerated.

Annually, 14.7% (48m) of the US population suffer from [a food-bourne] illness

The CDC's estimates of food-borne illness cases per year are presented with a wide margin of error. The primary estimate for the average annual domestically-acquired food-bourne illnesses in general is 36,402,867 9,388,075. Based on a 2006 population (the assumption stated in the CDC data) of 298.4 million, that's about 12.2% 3.1%. On the top end of the CDCs margin of error is 46,716,681 cases, and that's still only about 4.3% of the population per year suffering from food-borne illnesses.

about 1.3 million illnesses from campylobacter and 1.2 million illnesses from salmonella a year, affecting about 0.4% of the population

The primary average estimates of food-borne cases are 845,024 for Campylobacter and 1,027,561 for Salmonella. That would imply about 0.6% of the population is affected each year by either of these two serious illnesses.

But adjusted estimates of laboratory confirmed cases are much lower: 43,696 for Campylobacter and 41,930 for Salmonella. These would be more comparable to the figures given by the BBC for the UK, and imply that the rate for the US is only 0.015% of the the population.

In the US, the CDC estimates there are 450 deaths from salmonella a year.

Here is the source for this. That number is correct but not limited to food-bourne cases, for which the number is 378. The margin or error ranges up as high as 1,011.

  • 3
    You seem to lack a conclusion (perhaps intentionally), but the one I draw from your post is that they are both wrong. Is that a fair assessment?
    – Michael W.
    Mar 7, 2019 at 19:02
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    You are reading the wrong column in the CDC report. The figure 36,402,867 is for all domestically acquired cases of those 31 diseases. The vast majority of those estimated cases arise from non-foodborne sources. The rightmost column pertains to foodborne diseases; the total there is 9,388,075 cases. Mar 8, 2019 at 22:37
  • Made some edits based on both of the comments above. Thanks Michael and @DavidHammen.
    – Brian Z
    Mar 9, 2019 at 23:38

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