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Foodborne illnesses cost United States $152bn a year- report

By Rory Harrington , 03-Mar-2010

Acute foodborne illnesses cost the United States a staggering $152bn a year, with almost a quarter of this burden attributed to fresh, canned and processed produce, said a report from Produce Safety Project (PSP).

The study, Health-Related Costs from Foodborne Illness in the United States, examined healthcare, workplace and other economic losses in reaching the multi-billion dollar figure.

The latest estimate dwarfs a previous widely cited annual amount of just under $7bn because this only included costs from five of the most prevalent pathogens and did not take into account “the substantial pain and suffering cost that accompany a case of foodborne illness”, said author Dr Robert L. Scharff, a former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) economist and current Ohio State University assistant professor. The report concluded that even when pain and suffering losses were excluded, the cost to society was $103bn a year.

“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,” he said. “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.”

Fresh and processed food

The report found that fresh, canned and processed produce accounted for around 19.7m of the reported documented foodborne illnesses, costing a total of $39m in economic losses. Each case costs an average of $1,960, with California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois and Pennsylvania the states worst hit. This compares to an average overall cost per case of $1,850.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates there are a total of 76m foodborne illness cases across the US each year, leading to 300,000 hospitalisation and 5,000 deaths.

National and state breakdown

In additional to national data, the report outlines breaks down costs by pathogen and state. Larger states have a higher total cost – with California, Texas, New York and Florida agains topping the list. However, the picture changed when cost per case was examined with Hawaii proving most expensive at $2,088, followed by Florida at $1,984, Connecticut and Pennsylvania at $1.949. Kentucky, at $1,731, had the lowest cost per case in the nation.

View a state by state breakdown via the following link

The research also found that some food borne diseases elicited a higher cost than others. Listeria moncytogenes had a total economic cost that was almost half that of Campylobacter. This was despite the fact there were more than 400 times fewer Listeria cases than Campylobacter.

PSP said it hoped the report would help policymakers put food safety in its proper context.

“An up-to-date cost analysis of foodborne illnesses is critical for FDA officials and lawmakers to craft the most effective and efficient reforms,” said Jim O’Hara, PSP director. “A decade ago, we spent more than $1.3 billion annually to try to reduce the burden of foodborne illness and today we are spending even more. We need to make certain we are spending limited funds wisely and hitting our target of reducing sicknesses and deaths, and this study gives us a yardstick to measure our progress.”

View a full copy of the report by clicking on the following link

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