Foodborne illness costs Australia almost AUD $2.5 billion annually, according to updated estimates.

Figures show the scale of the problem is $2.44 billion (U.S. $1.58 billion) each year. The largest component is lost productivity because of non-fatal illnesses, followed by premature mortality and direct costs including hospitalizations and other healthcare use.

The study details the cost of foodborne illness in the country using data from 2019 when available. It includes Campylobacter, Listeria monocytogenes, norovirus, Salmonella, Salmonella Typhi, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), other pathogenic E. coli, Shigella, Toxoplasma gondii and Yersinia enterocolitica.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) commissioned the Australian National University to do the work. Prior estimates published in 2006 on the burden of foodborne disease put the figure at $1.25 billion (U.S. $810,000) per year.

Cost and factors by pathogen
Campylobacter has the highest cost at $365 million (U.S. $236 million), while norovirus, other pathogenic E. coli, and Salmonella are all estimated to cost more than $100 million (U.S. $65 million) each year.

“This report demonstrates that foodborne illness results in a substantial cost to Australia and that interventions to improve food safety across industry, retail, and consumers are needed to improve public health. Estimates provide evidence to support foodborne disease control efforts, while pathogen-specific costs also provide one piece of evidence to inform the prioritization of interventions toward those causing the greatest burden to society,” said researchers.

Premature mortality is the largest cost for pathogens that typically cause more severe illness, such as Listeria monocytogenes, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, and Salmonella. Because of a lack of long-term data on ongoing illness following listeriosis or toxoplasmosis, costs because of ill health or disability from these illnesses are not included.

The team estimated there were 4.67 million cases of foodborne gastroenteritis from all causes, with an associated 47,900 hospitalizations and 38 deaths each year.

The cost of salmonellosis and related illness was estimated at $140 million (U.S. $91 million) per year. The largest costs in children under 5 years old were because of lost productivity in caregivers, followed by premature mortality and willingness to pay to avoid illness.

Norovirus was estimated to cost $128 million (U.S. $83 million) and the figure was $78.4 million (U.S. $50.8 million) for listeriosis.

The cost of STEC and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) was estimated to be $11.7 million (U.S. $7.6 million). The amount was $3.41 million (U.S. $2.2 million) for Shigella infection.

The annual cost of toxoplasmosis was $13.1 million (U.S. $8.5 million) and $133 million (U.S. $86 million) for other pathogenic E. coli.

The cost of yersiniosis and reactive arthritis following illness was estimated to be $10.4 million (U.S. $6.7 million). The most was from lost productivity and premature mortality, followed by a willingness to pay to avoid pain and suffering.

Examples of outbreak costs
Researchers also assessed the costs of surveillance for gastrointestinal and foodborne infections and for data on outbreaks.

A 2016 Salmonella typhimurium outbreak linked to a bakery that affected 203 people was predicted to have cost $215,000 (U.S. $139,000) with the largest amount from lost productivity, followed by hospitalizations.

A 2018 Listeria outbreak from rockmelon, or cantaloupe, caused 22 illnesses, seven deaths, and one miscarriage. The estimated cost was $40.8 million (U.S. $26.4 million), with the most because of premature death.

A Salmonella enteritidis outbreak from eggs in 2018 to 2019 sickened 235 people with one death. This incident cost $5.7 million (U.S. $3.7 million) with the majority because of premature death.

In 2019 and 2020, 83 people fell sick in a Salmonella Weltevreden outbreak from frozen microwave meals. Costs were put at $289,000 (U.S. $187,000) and the largest component was from lost productivity.

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