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Food Illnesses Costing U.S. $152 Billion Annually

Wed, 03/03/2010 - 6:10am

(Reuters)  Food-based illnesses cost the United States $152 billion in health-related expenses each year, according to a study released by consumer and public health groups. Food safety advocates are hoping that the study will boost efforts in Congress to overhaul the nation's food safety system.

Dozens of pathogens, many of them unknown, creep into the food supply each year, sickening millions. The price tag includes medical costs, lost productivity and quality-of-life, according to a study from the Produce Safety Project.

“This is significantly more than previous official estimates and it demonstrates the serious burden that foodborne illness places on society,” said Sandra Eskin, a spokeswoman with Make Our Food Safe Coalition, a group of consumer, public health and other groups pushing for stronger food safety laws.

The latest study to delve into these illnesses comes as Congress works to craft legislation that would mark the first major overhaul of the food safety system in 50 years. The House passed its bill last July and the Senate, which has been bogged down with healthcare and regulatory reform, is expected to act this year.

“My hope... is that the sobering numbers of this report will compel the Senate to act immediately on food safety legislation,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who has vigorously pushed for food safety reform.”

An estimated 76 million people in the United States get sick each year with food-based illness and 5,000 die, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study found Kentucky had the lowest cost per case at $1,731. Alternatively, greater exposure to higher cost pathogens pushed the price tag to about $2,008 per case in Hawaii.

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