The cost of foodborne illness

Foodborne illness is more than just an inconvenience. It cost consumers billions of dollars every year.

Foodborne illness is much more than the “stomach flu,” it is a serious health issue and economic burden for consumers. According to the Economic Research Service (ERS) which is a part of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in the year 2000, $6.9 billion in costs were associated with the five most often diagnosed bacterial pathogens: Campylobacter, Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli O157:H7 and E. coli non-O157:H7 STEC. These costs are associated with medical expenses, loss of production from workers being unable to work due to illness and premature death.

The ERS estimates that the annual economic cost of illness caused by Campylobacter, the most frequently isolated cause of foodborne diarrhea, was $1.2 billion. The estimate includes medical costs, lost productivity and death due to campylobacteriosis from food sources, and costs associated Guillain-Barré syndrome, a form of paralysis that may be linked to the disease.

The ERS estimates that the annual economic cost of Salmonella in the year 2009 was $2.65 billion. This estimate includes medical costs due to illness, the value of time lost from work due to nonfatal illness, and the value of premature death.

During that same year the ERS estimated that the annual economic cost of illness caused by shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC O157) was $478 million. Again, this estimate includes medical costs due to illness, kidney dialysis and transplant costs, the value of time lost from work due to nonfatal illness and the value of premature death.

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service offer these suggestions to help protect yourself from becoming one of these statistics:

  • Cook all food to the proper temperature and reheat all leftovers to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a thermometer and check to be sure.
  • Bacteria grow fastest at temperatures between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, so chill or heat food to proper temperatures, promptly.
  • Make sure that all surfaces that come in contact with foods, including your hands, are clean.
  • Cross-contamination is how bacteria spread. Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood and their juices away from ready-to-eat food. Use one cutting board for raw meat, poultry and seafood and another for salads and ready-to-eat food.

For more information, read the Michigan State University Extension article on how you can prevent foodborne illnesses by using a food thermomter.

To find out more about food safety, visit befoodsafe.gov or contact a food safety educator with MSU Extension.

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