Foodborne illnesses cost US $77 billion a year, study says

Foodborne illnesses cost US $77 billion a year, study says
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Foodborne illnesses, which make 48 million people sick and account for 3,000 deaths annually, also cost the nation $77 billion a year, a report from the American Association for Justice found.

And the group, which advocates for legal reforms, said food companies are only making the food supply more susceptible to contamination by continuing to industrialize their farming strategies.

“Factory farms’ intensive use of pharmaceuticals in livestock is associated with the rise of antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs,’ and the vast amounts of waste produced contaminates groundwater and nearby crops to the extent that leafy green vegetables, like spinach and lettuce, are now the second-most frequent cause of food-related hospitalizations and the fifth most frequent cause of food contamination death,” the report said.  

But the report’s author, AAJ researcher David Ratcliff, said what’s so surprising is how often outbreaks of foodborne illnesses occur.

In the report, he highlights the Blue Bell Ice Cream listeria outbreak of 2015 that killed three people; the salmonella-contaminated chicken from Foster Farm, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said likely infected over 18,000 people; and the cantaloupes from Jensen Farms in Colorado that caused a listeria epidemic, killing 33 and infecting 147 people, to name a few.

Ratcliff said adulterated food is a problem that fails to get the attention it deserves.

“We’re focused on so many other things when it comes to food — gluten, calories and GMOs (genetically modified organisms),” he said. “There’s a sense it won’ t happen to us.”

In his report, Ratcliff points to the federal government’s fragmented oversight of food safety as part of the problem.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for example, regulates shelled eggs, while the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees liquid egg products. Similarly, the USDA regulates sausage meat while sausage casings fall under the FDA’s jurisdiction.

The 33-page report instead recommends Congress pass legislation to create a single food safety agency and place multidrug-resistant strains of salmonella and E. coli adulterants under food safety regulations to force producers to take steps to prevent contamination.

The report also recommends food producers vaccinate their livestock and randomly test their own products.