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State-By-State Estimates of Foodborne Illness Can Inform Interventions

Scharff-Cost-Per-CaseA new study out of Ohio State University estimates the costs of foodborne illness on a state-by-state basis.

Economist and associate professor of human sciences, Robert Scharff, found that, by conservative estimates, the average cost of illness per case ranges from $888 in West Virginia to $1,766 in Washington, D.C.

The analysis, published in the Journal of Food Protection, is the first peer-reviewed study to break down costs by state and is meant to help states pinpoint their biggest food safety problems and target interventions accordingly.

“Take an illness from a pathogen like Vibrio,” Scharff said. “It’s associated with seafood, particularly raw seafood eaten in summer months when water gets warmer. States with higher shellfish consumption — those in coastal areas — have a higher incidence of this type of foodborne illness, and so it makes sense for them to devote more resources to battling it than other states.”

Scharff-Cost-Per-PathogenScharff’s study includes both basic (more conservative) and enhanced estimates, the latter of which includes quality of life losses due to foodborne illness.

By the enhanced estimates, the average cost per case in West Virginia is $1,533 and $2,530 in D.C. In this model, Kentucky has the lowest average cost at $1,505 per case, and Maryland has the highest at $2,591 per case.

According to an update of Scharff’s previous estimates in 2010 and 2012, foodborne illness costs $93.2 billion per year nationwide in the enhanced model — an increase from $77.7 billion in 2012.

Scharff also breaks these numbers down into cost per resident to look at the overall burden. In Maryland, for example, the cost per resident ranges from $223 in the basic model to $391 in the enhanced one.


Non-typhoidal Salmonella illnesses are most costly per resident, followed by Listeria, STEC O157:H7 and Vibrio vulnificus.

Looking at total cost per state, California, unsurprisingly, has the highest, while Wyoming has the lowest.

Scharff thinks some of the reasons for differences between states include differences in the population of elderly or higher-risk groups, rates of consumption of risky foods, medical costs, productivity loss, and welfare loss.

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