High cost of foodborne illness

first_imgShare Facebook Twitter Google + LinkedIn Pinterest Foodborne illness costs some states more than $350 per resident every year, according to a new study in the Journal of Food Protection.The Ohio State University study also provides an updated estimate of the total national cost of foodborne illness, up to $93.2 billion a year, an increase from $77.7 billion in 2012.The economic analysis is the first peer-reviewed study that provides comprehensive estimates of costs borne by individual states as a result of specific foodborne illnesses. It is designed to offer public health authorities localized information to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of food safety education efforts and other interventions, said investigator Robert Scharff.“It will give policymakers a tool to determine whether a particular intervention they’re using makes sense,” Scharff said. “It can also be used to determine what are the biggest food safety problems in a state and how to prioritize resources accordingly.”Scharff, an economist, is a scientist with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.Costs vary between states for a number of reasons, Scharff said, including differences in:The incidence of foodborne illness. States with a higher population of older people or other higher-risk groups are more likely to have higher costs related to foodborne illness.Medical costs and economic productivity losses due to illness. Total hospital costs for foodborne illness in New Jersey, for example, are twice those in Maryland.Economic estimates of losses due to death or lost quality of life. Such estimates depend on average household income and similar factors.In the study, Scharff includes conservative cost estimates that don’t include losses associated with quality of life due to foodborne illness, which is the model typically used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as higher, or “enhanced,” estimates that include quality of life, a model typically used by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.Using the conservative model, he found that the average cost per case of foodborne illness ranged from $888 in West Virginia to $1,766 in the District of Columbia. Using the enhanced model, estimates of average cost per case ranged from $1,505 in Kentucky to $2,591 in Maryland. Those costs reflect a per-resident annual cost ranging from $133 to $391.In Ohio, the average cost per case ranged from $1,039 with the conservative model to $1,666 with the enhanced version, or $156 to $250 per resident every year.Nationally, Scharff calculated the total cost of foodborne illness to be $55.5 billion to $93.2 billion.Costs also vary depending on the type of foodborne illness.“The total cost and cost per resident estimates are ideally suited for a situation where a policymaker has limited resources and has to decide which pathogens to focus on at a more macro level,” Scharff said. “On the other hand, if you’re at the point where you’re actually considering different interventions, then the cost per case estimates would be most useful.”Using those figures, policymakers can weigh the cost of a foodborne illness prevention program against the potential cost per case of the illness to determine whether the program makes economic sense.For example, public health authorities in Ohio, which recently experienced an outbreak of botulism that resulted in at least 20 illnesses and one fatality, could use the data provided in the analysis to help determine whether additional food safety efforts should target this particular illness.According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the annual number of foodborne botulism cases nationwide averages about 17, Scharff said.“In Ohio, we had 20 cases just from one outbreak,” Scharff said. “That’s still a small number, but the cost per case for botulism is huge, ranging from $1.3 million to $1.6 million per case in Ohio.Using the figures in the new study, the recent Fairfield County botulism outbreak will cost an estimated $26 million to $33 million. Given those numbers, and the fact that it was the second documented outbreak of botulism in Ohio in the last seven years associated with home-canned vegetables, policymakers may determine that putting more resources toward home canning food-safety education would make sense, Scharff said.The analysis does not include costs associated with foodborne illness pathogens identified in foods that are recalled or otherwise do not cause foodborne illness, Scharff said.The analysis does reflect the severity of different types of foodborne illness, Scharff said.For example, although Campylobacter is commonly found on raw chicken — some estimates indicate it is on nearly half of all chicken in the U.S. — it is killed easily during the cooking process, and when it does cause illness, just 1 in 10,000 die. On the other hand, although Listeria is less common, it is often associated with foods such as ice cream, lunchmeat and fresh produce that are not cooked, and when it does cause illness, the chance of dying is high — 1 in 6.“That’s a big difference,” Scharff said. “And that’s reflected in the cost per case figures — it’s why both Listeria and botulism are so high.”In Ohio and in most states across the nation, Salmonella would be a good pathogen to target, he said.“If you look at the numbers, the biggest problem is Salmonella,” Scharff said. “Norovirus is more common, but Salmonella has a very high incidence of illness and also has a relatively high cost associated with it.”Scharff hopes the analysis brings more attention to the seriousness of foodborne illness not only among policymakers but consumers as well.“These numbers reflect the fact that 1 out of every 6 people becomes ill every year from foodborne illness,” Scharff said. “That’s a pretty big number.”last_img

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