Food-borne illnesses cost US $152b

Associated Press / March 4, 2010

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YAKIMA, Wash. - Food-borne illnesses, such as E. coli and salmonella, cost the United States $152 billion annually in health care and other losses, according to a report released yesterday by a food safety group.

The report comes as the US Senate considers legislation that would require more government inspections of food manufacturers and give the Food and Drug Administration new authority to order recalls, among other things. The House passed a similar bill last year.

The government estimates 76 million people each year are sickened by food-borne illness, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized and about 5,000 die.

The financial cost determined in the report published by the Produce Safety Project, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts, was significantly higher than the $35 billion reported by the Agriculture Department in 1997.

That analysis looked only at some health costs related to a handful of pathogens, said author Robert L. Scharff, an Ohio State University assistant professor of consumer sciences and a former FDA economist.