USDA estimates E coli, Salmonella costs at $3.1 billion

May 24, 2010 (CIDRAP News) – The US Department of Agriculture (USDA), using its recently released tool for calculating the cost of foodborne illnesses, estimated that Salmonella and Escherichia coli O157:H7 cases cost the nation about $3.13 billion a year.

The USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) estimated that Salmonella infections from all sources cost about $2.65 billion per year. That is based on an estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of almost 1.4 million Salmonella cases annually from all sources, with 415 deaths. The estimated average cost per case is $1,896.

The ERS put the cost of E coli O157 cases at $478.4 million, using the CDC's estimate of 73,480 cases per year from all sources, with 61 deaths. The average cost per case is estimated at $6,510.

The ERS has posted an online "Foodborne Illness Cost Calculator" that allows Web users to come up with their own estimates of the cost of foodborne illnesses for a state or region or for a given outbreak. The ERS's estimates, which have been used in cost-benefit and impact analyses, include assumptions about disease incidence, outcome severity, and medical and productivity costs.

The calculator provides information about the assumptions and lets users change them and see how that changes the cost estimates. The tool is currently set up to provide estimates only for Salmonella and E coli O157, but the USDA says it plans to add other pathogens, such as Campylobacter and Listeria.

The USDA cost estimates include medical costs, time lost from work due to nonfatal illness, and the cost of premature death. They exclude several other potential costs, such as pain and suffering, travel, and child care. Costs related to chronic complications in Salmonella cases are excluded, as are costs for special education and nursing home care in E coli cases.

For both pathogens, the CDC's estimated number of illnesses attributed to foodborne sources is somewhat lower than the estimated number from all sources.

For example, E coli cases linked to food are estimated at 58,784, versus 73,480 cases from all sources. Using the USDA cost calculator, the estimated cost of the foodborne cases alone comes out to about $378 million, or $100 million less than cost of all cases.

Much higher cost estimates for the two pathogens were offered in March by the Produce Safety Project, a group at Georgetown University that works for mandatory safety standards for produce.

The group estimated the annual cost of Salmonella cases at $14.6 billion and the cost of E coli O157 cases at $993 million. The group came up with an overall estimate of almost $152 billion a year for all foodborne diseases.

The estimates included medical costs, lost life expectancy, pain and suffering, and functional disability but not costs to government or the food industry.

See also:

USDA foodborne illness cost calculator

Mar 3 story CIDRAP News story "Study says foodborne illness costs US $152 billion a year"

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