Foodborne illnesses are caused by ingesting bacteria, fungi, parasites, viruses, toxins, or other harmful substances in contaminated food. ERS is a national leader in providing the costs of illness for select foodborne pathogens. Information on the costs of foodborne illness can help policymakers rank risks, focus policy, and prioritize spending.

ERS analyzes consumer responses to food safety incidents, both domestically and globally. This research adds to the knowledge base about consumer behavior and how food choices change when consumers are warned to temporarily avoid particular foods. In addition to warnings about the domestic food supply, highly publicized domestic or international food safety incidents may change consumer perceptions about food safety and their food purchasing patterns. Some consumers may avoid purchasing foods they perceive as unsafe; even after a safety problem with a particular food has been resolved, consumer perceptions about the implicated food product and about the ability of the supplier or exporting country to produce safe food may be slow to change.

It is important to know how consumers are likely to react to news about foodborne disease outbreaks and recalls. Public health and safety officials might need to find new ways of communicating with consumers if consumers fail to avoid a food when urged to do so.

ERS's food safety consumer program undertakes the following types of activities:

  • Data and monitoring: measuring, estimating, and publishing official statistics on a variety of food safety indicators, such as the costs of foodborne illness in the United States for select pathogens;
  • Descriptive analysis and synthesis: explaining and reporting findings in plain language;
  • Economic modeling and econometric analysis: conducting rigorous peer-reviewed studies on policy-relevant issues;
  • Extramural research: sponsoring and collaborating with the academic community to conduct food safety research to leverage mutual strengths and build capacity in areas of interest to USDA.

Users may also be interested in Food Safety: Markets, Regulation, and Policy.