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Acute foodborne illnesses cost the United States about $152 billion annually in health care, workplace and other economic losses, a recent report published by the Washington-based Produce Safety Project (PSP) has found. The project, which is operates from Georgetown University and is an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts, seeks the establishment by the Food and Drug Administration of mandatory and enforceable safety standards for domestic and imported fresh produce, from farm to fork.
Authored by Dr. Robert L. Scharff, a former FDA economist who is now an Ohio State University assistant professor in the consumer sciences department, “Health-Related Costs from Foodborne Illness in the United States,” estimates that over a quarter of these costs — around $39 billion — are due to foodborne illnesses related to fresh, canned and processed produce.
The FDA said that it would propose before the close of 2010 mandatory and enforceable safety standards for the growing, harvesting and packing of fresh produce. These will be the first national safety standards for fresh fruits and vegetables.
“An up-to-date cost analysis of foodborne illnesses is critical for FDA officials and lawmakers to craft the most effective and efficient reforms,” noted PSP director Jim O’Hara. “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.”
Produce, whether fresh, canned or processed, accounts for roughly 19.7 million of the reported illnesses documented, at a cost of about $1,960 per case and $39 billion yearly in economic losses. California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois and Pennsylvania were the states most affected by produce-related foodborne illness. As well as national data, the report contains state-level data.
“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,” said study author Scharff. “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.”
Scharff based his analysis on the economic principles currently used by FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) economists in their cost analyses. Additionally, to account for uncertainty, he employed confidence intervals and sensitivity analysis.
The cost of foodborne illness is calculated on both an aggregate level and a pathogen-specific level.
To see a full copy of the report and the state-by-state data analysis, visit www.producesafetyproject.org and click on the Health-Related Costs report.