Safer and healthier foods

MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 1999 Oct 15;48(40):905-13.


During the early 20th century, contaminated food, milk, and water caused many foodborne infections, including typhoid fever, tuberculosis, botulism, and scarlet fever. In 1906, Upton Sinclair described in his novel The Jungle the unwholesome working environment in the Chicago meat-packing industry and the unsanitary conditions under which food was produced. Public awareness dramatically increased and led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act. Once the sources and characteristics of foodborne diseases were identified--long before vaccines or antibiotics--they could be controlled by handwashing, sanitation, refrigeration, pasteurization, and pesticide application. Healthier animal care, feeding, and processing also improved food supply safety. In 1900, the incidence of typhoid fever was approximately 100 per 100,000 population; by 1920, it had decreased to 33.8, and by 1950, to 1.7 (Figure 1). During the 1940s, studies of autopsied muscle samples showed that 16% of persons in the United States had trichinellosis; 300-400 cases were diagnosed every year, and 10-20 deaths occurred. Since then, the rate of infection has declined markedly; from 1991 through 1996, three deaths and an average of 38 cases per year were reported.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Portrait

MeSH terms

  • Food Contamination / prevention & control*
  • Food Contamination / statistics & numerical data
  • Food Industry / history*
  • Food Industry / standards
  • Foodborne Diseases / epidemiology
  • Foodborne Diseases / history*
  • Foodborne Diseases / prevention & control*
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Safety
  • United States / epidemiology

Personal name as subject

  • M J Rosenau