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Cost of Food-borne Illness Vastly Higher Than Previous Estimates

March 3, 2010 -- Food poisoning costs the U.S. $152 billion, kills 5,000 people, and sends 325,000 to the hospital each year, new calculations suggest.

The figures come from a new study by former FDA economist Robert L. Scharff, PhD, JD, now an assistant professor at Ohio State University.

"This study illustrates how serious food-borne illness is as a problem for our society," Scharff said at a news teleconference announcing the findings.

The study, underwritten by the Produce Safety Project at Georgetown University and Pew Charitable Trusts, considers the direct health care costs of food-borne illnesses as well as the costs of years of life lost.

The $152 billion price tag likely is an underestimate, Scharff says.

Of the total cost, $39 billion a year is the result of contaminated produce alone.

The costs of food-borne illness vary from state to state, depending on the cost of health care in that state and residents' average income (which makes lost days of work more expensive).

New Jersey has the highest average cost per case of food-borne illness at $162. Montana has the lowest cost per case at $78.

On average, food poisoning costs every American $505 a year.

"Overall, the costs are shockingly high," U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said at the news conference.

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