Foodborne Sickness Costs U.S. $152 Billion Per Year

strawberries contamination health food photo

Images from Make Our Food Safe

A new study by a former FDA economist reports that foodborne illness costs America $ 152 Billion annually, the cost of 76 million cases of food related illness, 5,000 deaths, and 325,000 hospitalizations. The study, Health-Related Costs from Foodborne Illness in the United States calls for new strong regulation:

"This report makes it clear that the gaps in our food-safety system are causing significant health and economic impacts," says Erik Olson, director of food and consumer product safety with the Pew Health Group. "Especially in challenging economic times we cannot afford to waste billions of dollars fighting preventable diseases after it is too late. The Senate needs to act on this now and pass legislation that will improve protections for public health."

lettuce contamination health food photo

The author notes:

"The costs associated with foodborne illness are substantial," says report author Robert L. Scharff, a former FDA economist who is now an assistant professor in the Department of Consumer Sciences at The Ohio State University. "This study puts the problem of foodborne illness in its proper perspective and should help facilitate reasonable action designed to mitigate this problem."

Much of the cost is for medical costs (hospital services, physician services, and drugs), but also includes quality of life costs (deaths, pain, suffering, and functional disability). $39 billion of it is directly related to produce. Author Dr. Scharff says "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."

corn puffs contamination health food photo

There are many who would say that Americans are over-regulated already, and that spending a tenth of the losses due to illness to fix the problem would be government waste and would just be adding useless bureaucracy. Or that more regulation will increase the price of corn puffs.

But food safety regulation goes back to Republican president Teddy Roosevelt and the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act of 1906. We can't live without it.

More at the Produce Safety Project

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