ERS Charts of Note
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Tuesday, September 12, 2023
Vibrio are bacteria that thrive in warm brackish and marine waters. Many Vibrio can cause human illness through foodborne and waterborne exposure. Climate change is expected to expand the range and season of Vibrio infections as sea surface temperatures become warmer. Researchers from USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the private consulting firm Industrial Economics Inc. recently used data on sea surface temperatures and non-cholera Vibrio infection surveillance data to project how much climate change could increase the incidence of these infections in the United States. ERS’ per-case cost estimates of foodborne illnesses were used to project the costs of additional illnesses, including medical or treatment costs, productivity losses (the value of time affected by illness), and the value of a statistical life (an economic measure of preventing premature mortality). Results show that higher sea surface temperatures associated with moderate increases in greenhouse gas concentration (lower emissions scenario) may cause U.S. Vibrio infections (not including cholera) to increase 50 percent by 2090 relative to 1995. If global warming is not mitigated (higher emissions scenario), then such cases are projected to increase by more than 100 percent in that time period. The annual total cost of these illnesses more than doubles from nearly $2.6 billion in 1995 to $6.1 billion in 2090 (in 2022 dollars) under a lower greenhouse gas emissions scenario and more than triples to nearly $8.6 billion under the higher emissions scenario. Across both scenarios, about 95 percent of total costs are attributable to deaths caused by Vibrio infections. This chart appears in the ERS Amber Waves article, Climate Change Projected To Increase Costs of U.S. Vibrio Infections, published in June 2023.
Monday, June 5, 2023
In 2018, food products labeled “natural” accounted for slightly more than 16 percent of all consumer retail food purchases. USDA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration require producers to adhere to specific standards or processes to use certain label claims, such as USDA Organic. The “natural” claim, however, has minimal requirements and using the claim on a food product’s packaging does not require that the product provide any health or environmental benefits. Regulatory agencies treat the claim as meaning nothing artificial was added and the product was minimally processed. Even so, consumers sometimes attribute benefits to products labeled “natural,” research studies show. The share of products labeled “natural” varies by food category. The share of spending on “natural” products in 2018 was highest for dairy products (27.7 percent) and lowest for fruits (5.9 percent) and vegetables (5.4 percent). The data in this chart appear in the USDA, Economic Research Service report The Prevalence of the “Natural” Claim on Food Product Packaging, published in May 2023.
Friday, March 18, 2022
As the quantity of food imported into the United States continues to rise, it is increasingly important to minimize foodborne illness risks for U.S. consumers. Foods contaminated with pathogens or toxins can result in foodborne illnesses. A recent USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) study examined the number of U.S. import refusals caused by pathogen/toxin contamination and which pathogens accounted for those safety violations. From 2002 to 2019, 22,460 pathogen/toxin violations were discovered among imported shipments. Salmonella was the most frequently identified agent among imported foods during the period with 80 percent, or 17,922 of total pathogen/toxin violations. Listeria recorded the second largest number of violations at 2,463, accounting for 11 percent of the total. It was followed by histamine with 804 violations (3.6 percent), aflatoxin with 663 violations (3 percent), and bacteria other than Salmonella or Listeria with 455 violations (2 percent). Those five most frequently detected pathogens and toxins accounted for 99.3 percent of the total pathogen/toxin violations from imported foods over the period. This chart was drawn from the ERS report Examining Pathogen-Based Import Refusals: Trends and Analysis From 2002 to 2019, published December 2021.
Monday, February 7, 2022
Food imported into the United States from other countries may contain pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, or other disease-causing microorganisms, or toxins, which are mostly produced by microorganisms. These pathogens and toxins could lead to foodborne illnesses. From 2002 to 2019, a total of 22,350 pathogen violations occurred from imported foods. About 70 percent of those violations came from two food sources: the fishery and seafood products industry and the spices, flavors, and salts industry. Fishery and seafood products had 9,857 pathogen violations over this period, accounting for 44.1 percent of the total refused imports. This category was followed by spices, flavors, and salts, which had 5,886 violations, or 26.3 percent of the total. Cheese and cheese products accounted for 7.1 percent of the total, followed by fruits and fruit products with 6.2 percent, nuts and edible seeds with 5.1 percent, and vegetables and vegetable products with 4.1 percent. In total, the top six food industries accounted for 93 percent of the total pathogen violations over the period. This chart was drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service report Examining Pathogen-Based Import Refusals: Trends and Analysis From 2002 to 2019, published December 2021.
Monday, June 21, 2021
The USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) estimates that inflation and income growth drove up the costs resulting from 15 foodborne illnesses in the United States by $2 billion from $15.5 billion in 2013 to $17.6 billion in 2018. For this estimate, ERS included medical care costs, the value of lost earnings, and a monetary measure of death based on individuals' willingness to pay to reduce the risk of dying from foodborne illness. The biggest factor behind the increase in the overall costs of foodborne illnesses was the effect of inflation and income growth on the value people place on preventing deaths. However, the value of prevented deaths as a share of overall costs decreased slightly in 2018 compared to 2013 due to the substantial inflation in medical costs. Health effects from foodborne illness can vary by pathogen (bacteria, viruses, and parasites), ranging from a few days of diarrhea to more serious outcomes, such as kidney failure, cognitive impairment, and even death. Determining the overall costs of these health effects provides a common metric to compare impacts of different pathogens, a way to aggregate impacts across illnesses, and a means of comparing the costs of experiencing those illnesses with the costs of preventing them. More information can be found in the ERS’s updated Cost Estimates of Foodborne Illnesses data product. This chart appears in the ERS’s Amber Waves article, “Economic Cost of Major Foodborne Illnesses Increased $2 Billion From 2013 to 2018,” April 2021.
Tuesday, December 3, 2019
Public health officials recommend using food thermometers when cooking meat, poultry, and seafood to verify that the food is adequately cooked and that disease-causing pathogens, which could be in the food, are destroyed. Using data from the American Time Use Survey’s Eating and Health Module, ERS researchers found that 13.7 percent of at-home meal preparers used a food thermometer when preparing any meals with meat, poultry, or seafood during a typical week in 2014 to 2016. ERS researchers further examined whether at-home meal preparers with occupations related to food preparation were more likely to use a food thermometer. For at-home meal preparers who worked in the leisure and hospitality industry, 17.6 percent used food thermometers at home. Just over 20 percent of those who worked in the accommodation and foodservice industry, and 24.2 percent of those who worked in food preparation and serving occupations reported using food thermometers at home. These estimates exceed the national average, suggesting the training that foodservice employees receive for work partially carries over to behavior at home. This chart appears in the article, “Not All Consumers Are Following Food Safety Advice From Health Officials” in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, April 2019. This Chart of Note was originally published May 22, 2019.
Wednesday, July 17, 2019
About 48 million episodes of foodborne illness and 3,000 deaths occur per year in the United States. The most common foodborne pathogens cause an estimated annual burden of $14 billion to $36 billion. Produce has been implicated in 46 percent of foodborne illness outbreaks. Tomatoes have been the source of a number of foodborne illness outbreaks since 1998, but the annual number of foodborne illnesses associated with outbreaks in tomatoes has generally decreased since their high of nearly 900 in 2001. Ten outbreaks have caused more than 100 illnesses, while 2 were associated with deaths of individuals. In 2005 and 2006, multistate outbreaks of salmonella in tomatoes sickened 487 individuals. The most prominent recent case, which involved the food chain Chipotle in 2015, sickened 119 individuals with E. coli and hospitalized 17. Although the FDA never identified a single field or source of contamination, Chipotle was reported to have traced the contaminated tomatoes back to a farm in Virginia. In unrelated cases, contamination was traced back to irrigation pond water on Virginia farms; animal waste, farm surfaces, and ditch water on a Florida farm; and unknown sources on three farms in Ohio. This chart appears in the ERS report, “U.S. Produce Growers' Decisionmaking Under Evolving Food Safety Standards,” released in June 2019.
Monday, June 24, 2019
Produce growers reported that retail and foodservice buyer requirements—most common in fresh and fresh-cut produce marketing channels (for example, heads of lettuce versus bagged salads)—have largely driven the adoption of food-safety practices. Commercial buyers increasingly require third-party food-safety audits in order to reduce risk of foodborne illnesses. According to a 2015–16 USDA survey, adoption of third-party audits varied by growers’ primary marketing channels (see chart note for definitions). Among growers who reported having a primary marketing channel, those who sold mainly to fresh markets had the highest rate (39 percent). However, with an audit rate of over 50 percent, growers who sold to “mixed” (multiple) marketing channels—each with possibly different food-safety requirements—exceeded the audit rate for growers who belonged to any primary-marketing-channel category. In the survey sample, 17 percent of produce growers sell primarily “direct to consumers,” 29 percent to processors, 2 percent to the fresh-cut market, 26 percent to the fresh market, and 26 percent to mixed markets. This chart appears in the ERS report, U.S. Produce Growers' Decisionmaking Under Evolving Food Safety Standards, released in June 2019.
Wednesday, May 22, 2019
Public health officials recommend using food thermometers when cooking meat, poultry, and seafood to verify that the food is adequately cooked and that disease-causing pathogens, which could be in the food, are destroyed. Using data from the American Time Use Survey’s Eating and Health Module, ERS researchers found that 13.7 percent of at-home meal preparers used a food thermometer when preparing any meals with meat, poultry, or seafood during a typical week in 2014 to 2016. ERS researchers further examined whether at-home meal preparers with occupations related to food preparation were more likely to use a food thermometer. For at-home meal preparers who worked in the leisure and hospitality industry, 17.6 percent used food thermometers at home. Just over 20 percent of those who worked in the accommodation and foodservice industry, and 24.2 percent of those who worked in food preparation and serving occupations reported using food thermometers at home. These estimates exceed the national average, suggesting the training that foodservice employees receive for work partially carries over to behavior at home. This chart appears in the article, “Not All Consumers Are Following Food Safety Advice From Health Officials” in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, April 2019.
Tuesday, April 9, 2019
While pasteurization is required for interstate shipments of all milk and milk products intended for human consumption, many States allow intrastate shipments of raw (unpasteurized) milk from cows, sheep, or goats for human consumption. Raw milk can carry harmful bacteria and pose serious health risks, particularly for people with weakened immune systems, older adults, pregnant women, and children. From 2014 to 2016, an estimated 2.0 percent of at-home meal preparers, or 3.2 million people, consumed or served raw milk on a weekly basis. Many of these at-home meal preparers lived with one or more people in a high-risk group. Among at-home meal preparers who consumed or served raw milk, 80.2 percent lived with at least one other person, 43.9 percent were married, and 35.6 percent had at least one child under the age of 18 residing in the household. In addition, 27.6 percent had at least one person age 62 or older in the household. A version of this chart appears in the January 2019 ERS report, Consumer Food Safety Practices: Raw Milk Consumption and Food Thermometer Use. This topic is also discussed in the article, “Not All Consumers Are Following Food Safety Advice From Health Officials” in the April 2019 edition of Amber Waves.
Tuesday, March 12, 2019
Improperly cooked meat can carry harmful bacteria and pose serious health risks, particularly for people with weakened immune systems, older adults, and children. Food thermometers are recommended when preparing raw meat to verify that food is adequately cooked and pathogens are destroyed. Using data from the American Time Use Survey’s Eating and Health Module, ERS researchers found that 14 percent of at-home meal preparers used a food thermometer during a typical week in 2014 to 2016. Households that used food thermometers were more likely to have an annual household income of $50,000 or more. Based on monthly pretax earnings and adjusting for household size, they were more likely to be above 185 percent of the Federal poverty line. At-home meal preparers who used a food thermometer were also more likely to rate their physical health as excellent, participate in physical activities or exercise for fitness in a given week, be married, and have at least one child in the household. A version of this chart appears in the ERS report Consumer Food Safety Practices: Raw Milk Consumption and Food Thermometer Use, January 2019.
Wednesday, February 13, 2019
Public health authorities unequivocally advise consumers to avoid consuming raw (unpasteurized) milk. Raw milk can carry harmful bacteria and can pose serious health risks, particularly for people with weakened immune systems, older adults, pregnant women, and children. Pasteurizing milk—heating it for a specified period of time—kills dangerous bacteria and pathogens. Federal law requires pasteurization for interstate shipments of all milk and milk products intended for direct human consumption. However, States can allow intrastate shipments, and the number of States in which intrastate sale of raw milk from cows, sheep, or goats for human consumption is legal has been increasing. In 2016, 38 States allowed some form of intrastate sales of raw milk, 13 States allowed sales in retail stores, and 25 States allowed onfarm sales or cow-share agreements where a consumer can purchase a share of a cow’s milk production. Ten years earlier, intrastate sales in various forms were legal in 25 States. A version of this chart appears in the ERS report, Consumer Food Safety Practices: Raw Milk Consumption and Food Thermometer Use, released on January 29, 2019.
Friday, September 21, 2018
The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 gave the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) new and comprehensive authority to issue rules for the improvement of food safety, including the Produce Rule, which regulates fresh fruit and vegetables that are minimally processed and frequently consumed raw. Using detailed data on the distribution of farm sizes, ERS researchers calculated the cost of compliance for the Produce Rule across commodities and regions. Among produce raised primarily domestically, celery, and broccoli face the lowest compliance costs, representing less than 0.5 percent of total sales revenue, while snap beans and pears face compliance costs nearing 3.0 percent. Although compliance costs can be larger still for certain tropical and primarily imported fruit (bananas and avocadoes), this finding likely reflects the very small scale of production on U.S. farms from which data for these calculations are collected. This chart appears in the August 2018 Amber Waves finding, “Food Safety Costs for Farms Vary Across Commodities Due to Differences in Farm Size.”
Friday, August 31, 2018
Finalized in 2015, the Food Safety Modernization Act’s (FSMA) Produce Rule (PR) sets specific disease-preventive requirements for produce that is consumed raw in the United States. (Compliance deadlines for the PR’s water requirements are unofficially proposed through 2024.) The two main categories of water the PR covers are (1) preharvest, untreated ground or surface water that contacts the plants’ edible portions and (2) harvest or postharvest, untreated groundwater in circumstances where it is reasonably likely that contaminants would be transferred to the produce, such as washing produce or washing food contact surfaces. According to the survey results, the majority of growers who would be covered under the PR already tested the untreated ground and untreated surface water they used in the field, and an even larger share of growers covered by the PR tested the untreated groundwater they used in harvest and postharvest activities. This chart appears in “Before Implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act’s Produce Rule: A Survey of U.S. Produce Growers,” released in August 2018.
Monday, August 20, 2018
In an effort to understand produce grower food safety practices before the phased implementation (beginning in 2018) of the Food Safety Modernization Act’s Produce Rule (PR), ERS and USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service teamed to conduct the 2015/16 Produce Grower Food Safety Practices Survey. Survey results provide a general idea of how much growers spent (or did not spend) on certain food safety practices, including third-party audits. (These should not be interpreted as the cost of compliance with the PR or a complete measure of costs for food safety practices.) Average measured costs for growers with third-party food safety audits ranged from about $2,000 annually for growers with $25,000 to less than $500,000 in produce sales to about $40,000 annually for growers with $5 million or more in produce sales. Growers who did not conduct third-party audits ranged from an average of $1,200 for the lowest sales category to $3,600 per year for the highest sales category, suggesting that those who did conduct audits spent 2 to 10 times more than those who did not. This chart appears in the August 2018 Amber Waves article, “New Survey Results Highlight Variation in Food Safety Practices Prior to the Produce Rule.”
Tuesday, August 14, 2018
The Produce Rule (PR) of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) requires specific disease-preventive practices be used by U.S. growers of produce that is consumed raw. Finalized in 2015, the rule began to take effect this year. An ERS survey covering 2015 through 2016 found that a significant share of growers who would be covered by the PR upon implementation had already established key food safety practices such as hiring a dedicated food safety person or reviewing current practices through an outside, or third-party, food safety auditor. The PR does not require third-party food safety audits or written food safety plans, but these activities help serve as an indicator for PR readiness. Growers who were not covered by the PR or had a qualifying exemption had the lowest shares with third-party audits, and those groups responded similarly when asked if they kept a written food safety plan. For growers covered by the PR, responses were correlated with annual produce sales levels. Those selling over $5 million per year had the largest share already using each food safety practice, including employing a food safety person and conducting daily cleaning. This chart appears in “Before Implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act’s Produce Rule: A Survey of U.S. Produce Growers,” released in August 2018.
Thursday, July 12, 2018
Both USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversee food product recalls—the removal of risky food products from the U.S. marketplace. From 2004 to 2013, there were 4,900 food recall events in the United States involving a wide variety of foods. Most of these recalls were initiated because of possible pathogen contamination (41 percent) and undeclared allergens (27 percent). Pathogen contamination is the discovery of disease-causing microorganisms, such as Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes, in a food product. Undeclared allergens refers to the failure to declare on a food label one of eight major allergens: wheat, eggs, peanuts, milk, tree nuts (e.g., almonds, pecans, and walnuts), soybeans, fish, and crustacean shellfish. While the number of recalls due to pathogen contamination did not increase significantly from 2004 to 2013, the number of undeclared allergen recalls nearly doubled. The passage of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (effective January 1, 2006) likely played a major role in the increase in the number of undeclared allergen recalls. The statistics for this chart are drawn from the April 2018 ERS report, Trends in Food Recalls: 2004-13.
Friday, June 1, 2018
USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are the primary Federal agencies responsible for overseeing the safety of food sold in the United States. Both agencies engage in preventive actions to protect consumers from unsafe foods, including overseeing food product recall events—the removal of risky food products from the U.S. marketplace. A recent ERS study used a unique data set to identify trends and patterns in recall events during 2004-13—a period that included several highly publicized foodborne illness outbreaks and the enactment of two major food safety laws. From 2004 to 2013, there were 4,900 food recall events in the United States involving a wide variety of foods. A recall is announced to the public by a manufacturer or distributor and may include multiple recalled items. The majority of recalls were initiated because of possible pathogen contamination and undeclared allergens. Meat poultry and seafood accounted for the highest number of recalls (773), followed by prepared foods and meals, including soups (685) and nut and seed products (532). Together, these three categories accounted for 41 percent of all recall events between 2004 and 2013. The statistics for this chart are drawn from the April 2018 ERS report, Trends in Food Recalls: 2004-13.
Thursday, March 29, 2018
Estimates of the economic cost of foodborne illness play an important role in guiding food safety policy. They are used by the Federal Government in cost-benefit analysis of regulatory actions. Private and public decision makers use these cost estimates to compare the impact of illnesses that vary in number and severity. ERS researchers estimate that 15 major foodborne pathogens cost the U.S. economy $15.5 billion per year in medical care, lost time from work, and losses due to premature death. A foodborne pathogen’s economic burden is determined by both the number and severity of illnesses it causes. Salmonella and Toxoplasma gondii rank highest in cost because they cause the highest number of deaths each year. Norovirus ranks high because it sickens more people each year than the other pathogens, even though the symptoms of norovirus illness are generally mild and rarely require hospitalization. Listeria monocytogenes causes fewer illnesses than many other major foodborne pathogens, but it has serious outcomes for newborns whose mothers were sickened while pregnant. The statistics for this chart are from the ERS data product, Cost Estimates of Foodborne Illnesses.
Tuesday, June 27, 2017
The California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement, commonly known as the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA), went into effect in 2007, the first of a new generation of commodity-specific food safety programs to address microbial contamination in the produce industry (LGMA was developed privately by the industry, but participating firms work with USDA and the California Department of Food and Agriculture to verify compliance.) If firms decide to participate in the voluntary LGMA, they must implement a minimum standard of field-level food safety practices; compliance is enforced by mandatory third-party audits. A recent ERS report examined the 2012 food safety practices and costs of seven large LGMA participants. The case study looked at total food safety costs for firms in the LGMA, not just the costs of LGMA practices. The study found that labor costs are the primary food safety expense for LGMA participating firms. Of the five food safety costs measured in this case study, food safety staff accounted for 38 percent of the costs and foremen food safety time accounted for an additional 32 percent. While these cost shares are large, they do not account for the food safety time of other people in the firm with smaller food safety roles. This chart appears in the ERS Amber Waves article, "The California Leafy Greens Industry Provides an Example of an Established Food Safety System," released in June 2017.