Foodborne illness costs us $152 billion annually

From the Reuters wire:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Foodborne illnesses cost the United States $152 billion in health-related expenses each year, far more than prior estimates, according to a study released by consumer and public health groups on Wednesday.

Food safety advocates are hoping the study will boost efforts in Congress to overhaul the nation’s antiquated food safety system that has seen consumer confidence plunge.

In recent years, the food supply has been battered by a series of high-profile outbreaks, many involving produce, such as lettuce, spinach, peppers and peanuts, leading to a rash of illnesses and even death for consumers.

Dozens of pathogens, many of them unknown, creep into the food supply each year. The price tag includes medical costs, lost productivity and quality-of-life, according to a study from the Produce Safety Project.

“This is significantly more than previous official estimates and it demonstrates the serious burden that foodborne illness places on society,” said Sandra Eskin, a spokeswoman with Make Our Food Safe Coalition, a group of consumer, public health and other groups pushing for stronger food safety laws.

The study being talked about here is called, Health-Related Costs from Foodborne Illness in the United States, and was written by Dr. Robert L. Scharff, a former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) economist. The .pdf of the report itself can be found here, in order for you to judge for yourself.

To put this number into some context, let’s compare it against other big numbers.

  • n 2007 the field of presidential candidates for ’08 raised $582.5 million and spent $481.2 million (source)
  • Sales of chocolate, non-chocolate and gum confectionery approximately $28 billion at retail per year (source)
  • Overall US Beer Market in 2008: Approximately $101 billion (source)

The 152 billion number is fives times as large as previous estimates of the costs incurred from these outbreaks. I try to curtail my preference for hyperbolic language when it comes to these sort of reports, but if the numbers hold, it is a staggering amount of money.