Food Poisoning Prevention Worth Paying for, Consumers Say

In the wake of a growing number of widespread <"">foodborne illness outbreaks, a new study indicates that consumers are willing to pay more to reduce their chances of suffering from food poisoning.

Food Navigator says that, according to an emerging study just published in Food Policy, the value of a food safety program should be determined by the cost consumers are willing to bear. Brian Roe, professor of agricultural, environmental, and development economics at Ohio State University and Mario Teisl of the University of Maine, conducted surveys with 3,511 participants to determine what consumers would pay for foods with a lower risk of E. coli or Listeria contaminations, said Food Navigator.

“We think what we are measuring is more realistic, as complete eradication is a highly unlikely outcome for any policy,” Roe said, quoted Food Navigator. “We also are quite certain that our estimates of consumers’ willingness to pay would be higher than what the USDA would calculate using its cost-of-illness approach,” Roe added.

The team discovered that Americans are willing to pay about one dollar more for a ten percent reduction in food contamination risks for supermarket hamburgers that could be tainted with E. coli, said Food Navigator. This represents approximately $305 million for a ten percent reduction versus the analysis conducted in 2008 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that determined that it would cost $446 million to fully eradicate one E. coli strain from all foods, added Food Navigator.

“The [USDA] projections will estimate how many fewer people will die, how many fewer will get sick, and how do we assign benefit values to those improvements in the human condition,” Roe said. “What we’re saying is, let’s think of a method where we can assign a value to that avoided case as well as one for a person who misses work and pays $20 to go to a doctor. “To hedge their bets, would people be willing to pay $2 a year, $5 a year, to limit the odds they’re going to get sick from 1 in 100 down to 1 in 1,000? That’s the data you really want,” quoted Food Navigator.

The team created a hypothetical scenario in which participants were presented with the option of purchasing a pack of hotdogs or a pound of hamburger. The meat was priced based on if it was treated to reduce contaminants with either ethylene gas processing or electron beam irradiation, said Food Navigator. The participants were then told about the likelihood of the food being contaminated with either the E. coli or Listeria pathogen and were able to choose from purchasing treated foods, their usual brand, or to stop buying the meat entirely. Consumers, it turns out, would spend a limited amount more on safer food items, said Food Navigator.

“If the food industry were forced to put technology in place that lowered the presence of E. coli and that ramped up prices to the extent where everybody had to pay about a dollar more out of pocket each year for hamburger, we’re saying that, according to this model, that would be about an equal tradeoff for the US population. And if the technology costs only about 10 cents per person instead, that would seem like a good deal to most people,” said Roe, quoted Food Navigator.

Consumption of food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes can cause Listeriosis, a potentially fatal food borne illness. While healthy people rarely contract Listeriosis, the Symptoms of Food Poisoning from Listeria high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

E. coli bacteria is a potentially deadly pathogen and E. coli Food Poisoning Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, Dehydration, Abdominal Cramps, and Vomiting. In the most severe cases, the symptoms of E. coli poisoning can include kidney failure. The very young, seniors, and persons with weak immune systems are the most susceptible to foodborne illnesses.

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