Foodborne illness costs U.S. $152 billion a year

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON – According to a report published March 3 by the Produce Safety Project (P.S.P.), acute foodborne illnesses cost the U.S. an estimated $152 billion per year in healthcare, workplace and other economic losses. Titled Health-Related Costs from Foodborne Illness in the United States, the study was written by Dr. Robert L. Scharff, a former Food and Drug Administration economist and current Ohio State University assistant professor in the department of consumer sciences.

More than one-quarter of these costs, an estimated $39 billion, are attributable to foodborne illnesses associated with fresh, canned and processed produce, the study estimates.

F.D.A. has announced that it will propose before the end of the year mandatory and enforceable safety standards for the growing, harvesting and packing of fresh produce. These will be the first nationwide safety standards for fresh fruits and vegetables.

Produce (fresh, canned and processed) accounts for approximately 19,700,000 of the reported illnesses documented, at a cost of approximately $1,960 per case and $39 billion annually in economic losses.

Mr. Scharff based his analysis on the economic principles currently used by F.D.A. and U.S. Department of Agriculture economists in their cost analyses. In addition, to account for uncertainty he utilized confidence intervals and sensitivity analysis. The cost of foodborne illness is calculated on both an aggregate level and a pathogen-specific level.

To read a copy of the report and the state-by-state data analysis, go to: www.producesafetyproject.org.

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