A High Price to Pay—Costs of Foodborne Illness

Being a foodservice manager comes with a great variety of responsibilities. But one of the most important of those is the responsibility to keep the food you serve safe. You simply can’t afford not to.

A foodborne illness outbreak can cost an operation thousands of dollars or even result in closure. More important than the monetary costs, though, are the human costs. Victims of foodborne illnesses have been known to experience sickness, lost work, medical costs, long-term disability, and, in extreme cases, death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that contaminated food caused 47.8 million illnesses and more than 3,000 deaths each year in the United States. That includes food eaten at home and other places besides restaurants. The CDC reported in 2010, 48 percent of outbreaks were caused by food consumed in a restaurant or deli.

Ohio State University Consumer Science researchers estimate that the annual economic burden of foodborne illness is $77.7 billion per year (or $248 per person in the United States).

Economic costs studies, however, are not the whole story. They do not include food industry costs, including any loss of consumer confidence in a brand or a business, associated recall expenses, or charges stemming from litigation, nor do they include the cost to taxpayers for local, state, and federal health agencies that respond to outbreaks.

As food handler professionals, we are able to make a difference. Many foodborne illness outbreaks can be prevented by following simple food safety rules:

  • Wash your hands properly and frequently.
  • Thoroughly wash vegetables and fruits.
  • Cook red meats, poultry, and fish properly.
  • Carefully follow time and temperature control rules.

Correctly clean and sanitize surfaces that contact food.