Study puts U.S. foodborne illness costs at $152 billion

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON — Foodborne illnesses, such as E. coli and Salmonella, cost the United States an estimated $152 billion per year in health care, workplace and other economic losses, up sharply from the $35 billion reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1997, according to a report published March 3 by the Produce Safety Project (P.S.P.).

The study, “Health-Related Costs from Foodborne Illnesses in the United States,” estimated $39 billion of the costs are attributable to foodborne illnesses associated with fresh, canned and processed produce.

Robert L. Scharff, a former economist with the Food and Drug Administration and current Ohio State University assistant professor in the department of consumer sciences, wrote the report, which he based on analysis of the economic principles currently used by the F.D.A. and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in cost analyses.
The release of the peer-reviewed report comes as the F.D.A. works toward developing mandatory and enforceable safety standards.

“An up-to-date cost analysis of foodborne illnesses is critical for F.D.A. officials and lawmakers to craft the most effective and efficient reforms,” said Jim O’Hara, director of the P.S.P. “A decade ago, we spent more than $1.3 billion annually to try to reduce the burden of foodborne illnesses 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.”

According to the study, the total cost of foodborne illnesses was highest in California, at $18.6 billion, followed by Texas at $11.3 billion and New York at $10.4 billion. Wyoming ranked last with $245 million in total costs.
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