USDA releases estimates of annual foodborne pathogen costs

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Economic Research Service has released spreadsheets for 15 different major pathogens in the U.S. that together are responsible for more than 95% of the illnesses and deaths from foodborne illness. According to an article from Food Safety News, for each pathogen the data “provide a range of potential costs, taking into account such factors as associated outpatient and inpatient expenditures for medical care and lost income.”

Based on this data, Food Safety News used the mean range and added the costs for all 15 pathogens to reach the following conclusions:

  • $15.6 billion – the cost foodborne illnesses are annually costing the economy. This is about one-half of the $32 billion the World Health Organization says the Ebola outbreak will cost the world economy.
  • 8.9 million – the number of Americans each year that will be sickened by one of the 15 pathogens. More than 5.4 million of those illnesses due to the stomach-churning, but usually short-lived, Norovirus.
  • 53,245 – the number of Americans foodborne illness sends to hospitals annually, which is where the majority are when infections take the lives of 2,377.

According to the article, the new estimates may produce some debate because they are lower than other recent estimates. For example, from 1999 to 2010, the CDC estimated there were 76 million cases of foodborne illnesses annually, sending 325,000 people to hospitals and resulting in 5,000 deaths. This is compared to 48 million cases, 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths in 2012. In addition, economic burden cost studies were made by Ohio State University and totaled $152 billion in 2010 and $77.7 billion in 2012.

As stated in the same article, economic costs studies are not the whole story. “They do not include food industry costs, including any loss of consumer confidence in a brand or a business, associated recall expenses, or charges stemming from litigation, nor do they include the cost to taxpayers for local, state, and federal health agencies that respond to outbreaks.”

Food Safety News lists the 15 pathogens included in the USDA study, along with the mean figure for the economic burden they represent as you see below:

  • Campylobacter (all species) – $1,928,787,166
  • Clostridium perfringens – $342,668,498
  • Cryptosporidium parvum – $51,813,652
  • Cyclospora cayetanensis – $2,301,423
  • Escherichia coli O157 – $271,418,690
  • Non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli – $27,364,561
  • Listeria monocytogenes – $2,834,444,202
  • Norovirus – $2,255,827,318
  • Salmonella (nontyphoidal) – $3,666,600,031
  • Shigella (all species) – $137,965,962
  • Toxoplasma gondii – $3,303,984,478
  • Vibrio parahaemolyticus – $40,682,312
  • Vibrio vulnificus – $319,850,293
  • Vibrio (all other non-cholera species) – $142,086,209
  • Yersinia enterocolitica – $278,111,168

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