This page provides information on the history of ERS cost estimates of foodborne illnesses.

Some of the first economic estimates of the costs of foodborne illness were provided by ERS. ERS researchers have updated and refined cost estimates of foodborne illnesses, along with details on the assumptions behind the estimates. See Cost Estimates of Foodborne Illnesses.

History of ERS Cost Estimates

ERS researchers conducted some of the earliest studies on the economic costs of foodborne illness and have since updated and expanded these analyses using improved estimation methods and better data. Each series of ERS estimates incorporated better information on disease incidence, more detailed data on the health consequences of foodborne illness, and advances in the economic methodologies for valuing health outcomes.

ERS published its first comprehensive cost estimates for 16 foodborne bacterial pathogens in 1989 in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics (see Roberts, Tanya, "Human Illness Costs of Foodborne Bacteria,"American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 71(2):468-74, May 1989). These initial estimates reflected the limited information then available about the incidence of foodborne illness, and used cost-of-illness (COI) methodology to tally expenditures on medical care and lost productivity due to nonfatal illness and premature death.

In 1996, ERS updated the cost estimates for six bacterial pathogens (Campylobacter, Clostridium perfringens, Escherichia coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, and Staphylococcus aureus) in a report:

Bacterial Foodborne Disease: Medical Costs and Productivity Losses

In 1996, ERS also estimated the cost of one foodborne parasite (toxoplasma gondii) in an article, "ERS Updates U.S. Foodborne Disease Costs for Seven Pathogens". ERS continued to use the COI methodology for nonfatal illnesses, but adopted two different health valuation methodologies for premature deaths: the individualized human capital approach and the willingness-to-pay (WTP) approach.

ERS updated the cost estimates for four pathogens (Campylobacter, Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, and Listeria monocytogenes) again in 2000, and also estimated the cost for E. coli non-O157:H7 (see "Food Safety Efforts Accelerate in the 1990’s").

The 2000 estimates were based on 1999 estimates of annual foodborne illnesses by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). See an article by Paul S. Mead and co-authors in the  Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, "Food-Related Illness and Death in the United States." The COI methodology was used for nonfatal illnesses, and the WTP approach was used for premature deaths.

The Salmonella cost estimate was prepared in collaboration with CDC's FoodNet Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, and used new sources of data on medical costs and productivity losses including FoodNet surveillance data and a large commercial medical claims database.

The cost estimate for E. coli O157:H7 (now termed STEC O157) was subsequently updated in collaboration with FoodNet in 2005, using FoodNet surveillance data and a case-control study of STEC O157 patients (see "Economic cost of illness due to Escherichia coli O157 infections in the United States").

In 2003, ERS introduced the Foodborne Illness Cost Calculator, an interactive online version of the updated ERS cost estimates for selected foodborne pathogens. The Cost Calculator initially included the Salmonella cost estimate, and later added the STEC O157 estimate. The Cost Calculator provided detailed information about the assumptions underlying each estimate, and allowed users to make alternative assumptions and re-estimate the costs. ERS's approach has been described in the following publication: Economic Cost of Illness Due to Escherichia coli O157 Infections in the United States.

ERS's updated cost estimates for additional pathogens, along with detailed assumptions, are now available in the data product, Cost Estimates of Foodborne Illnesses. This product provides detailed data about the costs of major foodborne illnesses in the United States, updating and extending previous ERS research. The data set includes:

  1. Detailed identification of specific disease outcomes for foodborne infections caused by 15 major pathogens in the United States
  2. Associated outpatient and inpatient expenditures on medical care
  3. Associated lost wages
  4. Estimates of individuals’ willingness to pay to reduce mortality resulting from these foodborne illnesses acquired in the United States.