by Marion Nestle
May 26 2021

How much does foodborne illness cost?

The USDA has compiled a long list of documents related to the cost of the leading 15 foodborne microbial illnesses that affect Americans.   It also has produced a summary of this information.

Fifteen pathogens account for over 95 percent of the illnesses and deaths from foodborne illnesses in the U.S. (those for which the CDC can identify a cause).

The CDC estimates that these 15 pathogens cause about 8.9 million cases of illness, 54,000 hospitalizations, and 1,480 deaths each year.

In 2018, these cost about $17.6 billion in health care, hospitalization, lost wages, and other economic burdens, an increase of $2 billion over estimates in 2013.

Five pathogens are responsible for most of these costs.

Economists have an odd way of estimating these costs.  They factor in an economic value for preventing each death from foodborne illness.  In 2013, they estimated the value of each death prevented as $8.7 million; this estimate increased to $9.7 million each in 2018.

The bottom line: we need to do a much better job of preventing foodborne illness for reasons of cost as well as human suffering.