Revised estimate puts foodborne illness cost at about $78bn a year

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Foodborne illness Illness Economics

Revised estimate puts foodborne illness cost at about $78bn a year
The cost of foodborne illness in the United States is about $77.7bn per year, according to Dr. Robert Scharff, an Ohio State University assistant professor and former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) economist – slashing in half his previous, widely cited $152bn estimate.

The main reason for the reduced estimate is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2010 revision of the number of people affected by foodborne illness each year, from 76m to 48m, including about 375,000 people who are hospitalized and about 3,000 who die. The CDC has stressed that the downward revision of its estimate was not necessarily about the food supply becoming safer, but largely due to better data and methodology, resulting in more accurate estimates.

“Consequently, economic studies based on the previous estimates are now obsolete,”​ Scharff wrote in the latest edition of the Journal of Food Protection​.

His new study used economic estimates for medical costs, productivity losses, and illness-related mortality, combined with broader estimates based on monetized quality adjusted life years, which take into account pain, suffering, and functional disability associated with foodborne illness.

“The addition of updated cost data and improvements to methodology enhanced the performance of each existing economic model,” ​Scharff wrote.

Using the enhanced economic model, Scharff found that the cost of each case of foodborne illness was about $1,626. Using a narrower model that does not take into account quality adjusted life years, the total annual cost of illness was about $51bn, he concluded.

Although $77.7bn is significantly lower than his previous estimate, it is still ten times larger than pre-2010 estimates of the cost of foodborne illness. One of the most widely cited estimates before Scharff suggested his $152bn figure was just under $7bn. However, this only included costs from five of the most prevalent pathogens and did not take into account pain and suffering losses.

Source: Journal of Food Protection

Vol.75, No. 1, January 2012 , pp. 123-131(9)

“Economic Burden from Health Losses Due to Foodborne Illness in the United States”

Author: Dr. Robert Scharff

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