Is Our Food That Unsafe? Foodborne Illness Costs U.S. $152 Billion Annually


PRNewswire reported yesterday that a team, led by a former economist with the US FDA, Robert Scharff,  has issued a frightening report that illnesses from food products in the United States annually account for approximately 5,000 deaths and 325,000 hospitalizations with a resulting financial cost of $152 billion. The Produce Safety Project, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts at Georgetown University, published the reportHealth-Related Costs from Foodborne Illness in the United States.  The estimates of the toll on human life and health is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The FDA has issued an announcement regarding the opening of a docket “to obtain information about current practices and conditions for the production and pack of fresh produce.”in which and request for comments.”  The purpose of this information gathering is for the development of “safety standards for fresh produce at the farm and packing house and strategies and cooperative efforts to ensure compliance.”  

“This report makes it clear that the gaps in our food-safety system are causing significant health and economic impacts,” says Erik Olson, director of food and consumer product safety with the Pew Health Group. “Especially in challenging economic times we cannot afford to waste billions of dollars fighting preventable diseases after it is too late. The Senate needs to act on this now and pass legislation that will improve protections for public health.”

The release of the report comes as the U.S. Senate may soon vote on comprehensive food-safety legislation. The U.S. House of Representatives passed its food-safety bill (H.R. 2749) last July, and just before Thanksgiving, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions unanimously approved the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510).

When you read and hear about what is going on in our own country on a daily basis – the Toyota fiasco, the daily recalls of products – many of which involve children’s clothing, toys, cribs, strollers – other auto manufacturer recalls (just yesterday Nissan announced its own recall of 500,000 vehicles) and now this report, you wonder:  what is going on?  Does the profit motive justify these seemingly endless tales of loss of life and injuries in our country?  Guess we will need a new universal healthcare system – especially to treat all the people in our society injured or killed as a result of these out-of-control manufacturing and distribution problems.  Sure we can talk about preventive health. Well, how about taking preventive legislative steps and giving real enforcement powers against the manufacturing and distribution industries in our economy?  I know – it’s really all about the lawyers —  isn’t it?

To obtain a copy of the report, visit

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