New Study Reports Shocking Data on Food-Borne Illness

woman sick from food borne illnessThe statistics are staggering. A new study, just released on March 2, estimates that the total economic impact of food-borne illness in the U.S. is $152 billion annually.  (The average cost per medical case is $1,850.)  Does this mean that the cost of food-borne illness is increasing?  We can’t conclude that because the economic costs of these illnesses have not been examined comprehensively in the same way ever before. 

This new report was published by the Produce Safety Project, an initiative of  The Pew Charitable Trusts at Georgetown University under the title Health-Related Costs from Foodborne Illness in the United States.

The report ranks states according to their total costs related to food-borne illness.  The highest costs were incurred by Hawaii, Florida, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, the District of Columbia, Mississippi, New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. 

Perhaps the report’s huge figure  shouldn’t surprise us since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that every year the U.S. has 76 million new cases of food-related illness, and these result in 5,000 deaths and 325,000 hospitalizations. 

“The data and analysis released today show our lawmakers that they need to send strong food-safety legislation to the president’s desk as soon as possible,” says the mother of a son who suffered from a salmonella infection.  In fact, both Houses of Congress have been working on food safety bills, and the Senate may soon vote on comprehensive food-safety legislation.

The $152 billion figure includes the sum of medical costs (doctors’ bills, hospital bills, and the cost of medication) as well as loss of income and costs related to functional disability. 

What causes all this food-borne illness?  Contaminated produce is obviously one of the major culprits.  Illnesses related to produce alone are almost $39 billion per year, according to CDC estimates.

Through the Produce Safety Project at Georgetown University, Pew hopes to address several threats to the nation’s food supply.  Among these  are the following: preventing contamination of fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S., ensuring the safety of imported foods, and improving the systems that inform consumers about contamination outbreaks.   One of the Project’s goals is  the establishment by the Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) of “mandatory and enforceable safety standards for domestic and imported produce, from farm to fork.”

The consumer—you—can  help to lower these frightening statistics.  Here are two steps you can take.

1) Let your congressman and senators know that this issue is important to you.

2) Pay attention to information on preparing food safely (on this site and elsewhere).  About 31% of food-borne illness is caused by mishandling of foods in the home—not washing hands before handling food, not washing produce well, not cooking food long enough, not keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold.  Take these steps and help make the next study’s statistics less scary.


The Pew Charitable Trusts. “Produce Safety.”

The Pew Charitable Trusts  “Foodborne Illness Costs U.S. $152 billion annually, Landmark Report Estimates”

Chicago Tribune  “Tainted-food costs called understated”

Susan Brewer, Ph.D.  University of Illinois, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition


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