Foodborne Pathogens Cost America Billions


NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Foodborne pathogens like salmonella, norovirus and listeria cost the American economy billions of dollars a year in lost productivity, according to a new report from the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogen Institute.

As the institute explains, millions of Americans get food poisoning every year – around one in six, by its count – and approximately 3,000 end up dead. That adds up to a significant economic impact from lost productivity, and the institute estimates the total annual cost to the country at $14 billion. Ninety percent of that impact can be attributed to the five heavy hitters of the food-borne pathogen world: salmonella, campylobacter, listeria monocytogenes, toxoplasma gondii and norovirus. Salmonella in particular is a common culprit, infecting people who eat contaminated poultry, eggs and produce; the report notes that “it is one of the few foodborne pathogens for which illnesses have not significantly declined over the past 10 years.” 

To provide a better picture of what food poisoning events are making the most people sick, the Institute ranked the top 10 pathogen and food combinations by their annual economic impact:

  1. Campylobacter in Poultry: $1.3 billion
  2. Toxoplasma in Pork: $1.2 billion
  3. Listeria in Deli Meats: $1.1 billion
  4. Salmonella in Poultry: $700 million
  5. Listeria in Dairy Products: $700 million
  6. Salmonella in Complex Foods: $600 million
  7. Norovirus in Complex Foods: $900 million
  8. Salmonella in Produce: $500 million
  9. Toxoplasma in Beef: $700 million
  10. Salmonella in Eggs: $400 million

The institute is quick to note that it’s not advising people to avoid the foods in question, but rather to be aware of the importance of good food safety practices, like using separate cutting boards for meat and produce. More importantly, it hopes that the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture will draw upon the report’s conclusions to target issues of food safety more effectively. As it explains, under the current regime the agencies simply draw upon Centers for Disease Control statistics that track how many deaths and illnesses result from each pathogen. 

“However, the CDC’s estimates do not pair pathogens with specific foods, a shortfall that means regulators do not know the foods or pathogen-food combinations to target with safety measures,” the report warns.

Learn more about food pathogens and why food recalls have been getting worse on MainStreet.

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