Study: Foodborne illness costs up to $77.7 billion

01/05/2012 10:51:00 AM
Mike Hornick

Foodborne illness in the U.S. carries an annual price tag up to $77.7 billion, according to research published in January in the Journal of Food Protection.

The paper, “Economic Burden from Health Losses Due to Foodborne Illness in the United States,” is by Robert Scharff, an assistant professor in the department of consumer sciences at Ohio State University.

The study assesses the economic effects of foodborne illness to reflect a reduced estimate of the number of cases by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2010.

Such illnesses sicken 48 million and kill 3,000 every year, according to the CDC. That was a big drop from 1999, when the agency reported 76 million sickened and 5,000 killed annually. The CDC attributes the difference to improvements in its data and methods.

Scharff offers two measures for cost of illness. One represents medical costs, productivity losses and mortality. An enhanced model replaces productivity loss with pain, suffering and functional disability measures intended to be more inclusive.

The nationwide total of $77.7 billion is Scharff’s enhanced estimate. For the basic model, it’s $51 billion. That puts the average cost per case of foodborne illness at $1,626 or $1,068, respectively.

The paper looks at costs related to 31 pathogens.

Salmonella accounts for about 28% of foodborne-related deaths and 35% of hospitalizations, making it the leading cause of both, according to the CDC.

In Scharff’s analysis it costs $4.4 billion under the basic model, and balloons to $11.4 billion in the expanded. "The difference here is largely due to the fact that salmonella has a decent chance of leading to reactive arthritis," Scharff told The Packer. "This condition does not have a big effect on productivity, but it does result in a high degree of pain and suffering."

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture pegged the cost of salmonella at $2.7 billion.

Listeria monocytogenes totals close to $2 billion under both Scharff models. E. coli O157:H7, by comparison, costs $607 million (basic) to $635 million (expanded). The USDA’s 2010 number on E. coli O157 was $488.7 million.

The study reflects all foodborne illness. According to the Watsonville, Calif.-based Alliance for Food and Farming, 2.2% of such illnesses can be traced to a farm where fresh produce is grown.



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