Assuring Food Safety in America

Acute foodborne illnesses cost the United States an estimated $152 billion per year in healthcare, workplace and other economic losses according to a 28-page report Health-Related Costs from Foodborne Illness in the United States.

The report declares that annual health-related costs of foodborne illness in Kansas alone are estimated at $1,343,000,000 or $484 for every man, woman and child in the state.

“Foodborne illness is a serious public-health problem in the United States. In 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that approximately 76 million new cases of food-related illness (resulting in 5,000 deaths and 325,000 hospitalizations) occur in the United States each year. More recent data on sporadic
illnesses and outbreaks suggests that this problem is not going away,” declares the report author, Dr. Robert L. Scharff, formerly a Food and Drug Administration economist and now Ohio State University assistant professor in consumer sciences. “At the same time, the aggregate economic cost of health losses associated with foodborne illnesses has not been sufficiently examined.” This report is an attempt to begin to redress that problem.

For a quick summary of the report’s findings, see the one page summary Health-Related Costs from Foodborne Illness in the United States or the two page press release from Georgetown University and Pew Charitable Trust’s Produce Safety Project, Foodborne Illness Costs Nation $152 Billion Annually.

Two notes of caution about the substance of the report, however.

In Kansas, the cost per case of foodborne illness is estimated at $1,764. This number is derived from total estimated costs of $80,000,000 in medical expenses, $407,000,000 in lost life expectancy, and $857,000,000 in “quality of life costs.” The fact that more than half of the claimed costs are in the intangible, perhaps nebulous area of quality-of-life costs may very well be quite defensible, but you should exercise all due skepticism with respect to the claim.

The second cautionary note is that, while the report is produced under the auspices of the Product Safety Project at Georgetown University, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts, it is also linked directly to an umbrella advocacy organization Make Our Food Safe which seeks the passage by Congress of “strong food safety legislation.” This heterogeneous collection of consumer and public health oriented advocacy organizations, many with quite strong reputations, includes at least one which has been repeatedly charged with making exaggerated and unwarranted claims based on meager or nonexistent documentation. That is hardly reason to reject the claims in the report, but is certainly reason for caution.

So, where can you go for reliable information on the health of your food and other related issues, and to test the claims forwarded in this report? Several government agencies provide an array of resources that can help you make informed choices about food safety. They include:

FoodSafety.gov, a Federal Clearinghouse of Consumer Information on Food Safety

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention Food Safety Office

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention Division of Foodborne, Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases

The US Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

The US Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service Food Safety Programs Page

and The US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service Safe Food Page.

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Published in: on March 17, 2010 at 5:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

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