Report Finds Food Poisoning Outbreaks Cost U.S. Billions Every Year

A report from the Produce Safety Project has found that food borne illnesses are costing the U.S. $152 billion every year. According to the same study, more than a quarter of that cost – $39 billion – is the result of <"">foodborne illnesses associated with fresh, canned and processed produce.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that outbreaks of Salmonella, E. coli and other foodborne illnesses take a staggering toll. According to the federal government, 76 million people each year come down with some form of food poisoning, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized and about 5,000 die. Last year alone, Salmonella tainted peanut paste and peppers sickened hundreds, while E. coli contamination was traced to ground beef and spinach. In the past couple of months, tainted pepper used on Italian sausage was blamed for more than 200 cases of Salmonella.

The Produce Safety Project study, Health-Related Costs from Foodborne Illness in the United States, was written by Dr. Robert L. Scharff, a former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) economist and current Ohio State University assistant professor in the department of consumer sciences.

In conducting the study, the Produce Safety Project examined government data on all food-borne illnesses and included a broader set of economic losses. They included the costs of emergency and ongoing medical care, pain and suffering and death. It also included costs to food-borne illnesses whose source was not identified, which the federal government estimates is more than three-fourths of all cases. Not included were costs associated with food recalls or to industries involved.

According to the Produce Safety Project, produce (fresh, canned and processed) accounts for roughly 19,700,000 of the reported illnesses documented, at a cost of approximately $1,960 per case and $39 billion annually in economic losses. The study also found that the cost associated with each case of illness from tainted produce is somewhat higher than the average cost per illness ($1,960 vs. $1,850). California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois and Pennsylvania were the states most impacted by foodborne illness cases related to produce, the report said.

“The contribution of this study is that it provides more complete estimates of the health-related cost of foodborne illness in the United States by summing both medical costs (hospital services, physician services, and drugs) and quality-of-life losses (deaths, pain, suffering, and functional disability) for each of the major pathogens associated with foodborne illness,” Dr. Scharff said in a press release detailing his report. “This cost includes both expenses to the person made ill such as pain and suffering losses and costs to others in society such as outlays by insurance companies that pay medical expenses.”

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