WASHINGTON – It turns out that tainted food cannot only make people sick, but it can also cost them a bundle in the process.
A new consumer research report released today has found that the health-related costs of food-borne illnesses total $152 billion a year, including the costs of medical bills, lost wages and lost productivity. That price tag is nearly five times that of earlier estimates calculated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The findings come as regulatory efforts to patrol the country’s food sector are growing amid reports of a string of costly – and sometimes fatal – outbreaks of food-borne illness involving peanuts, jalapeno peppers, spinach, beef and other foods.
The report, sponsored by the Produce Safety Project at Georgetown University, provides the most comprehensive examination yet of health costs associated with flaws in the nation’s food safety system and “demonstrates the burden of food-borne illness,” said Sandra Eskin, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Food Safety Campaign, a supporter of the study.
In 1997, the USDA reportedly pegged the public cost of sickness and death from eating tainted food at $35 billion a year.