Thursday, January 8, 2015

Food poisoning burden-Staggering cost for suffering from food borne infections

Improperly stored and processed foods can cause many diseases, some of them being fatal to humans. Food industry is expected to take highest precaution in handling foods intended for the market to avoid delivery of tainted foods with serious consequences and it must be said that most processors do a reasonably good job in ensuring consumer protection investing heavily in preventive practices to stop release of suspected products in the market. Unfortunately some undesirable practices and the diverse sources from where food ingredients are sourced from different parts of the world make it difficult to avoid occasional hiccups in the form of food illness among a small group of consumers. Traceability of contamination across the food supply chain is now a priority with the industry and if a fool proof system is evolved even when food contamination is detected the source from where it emanated can be ascertained for restricting the damage to the minimum. Excellent ,fast, and reliable techniques for testing food contaminants have further enabled the industry to take maximum care to ensure food safety. In the US where reliable system of documentation of food contamination incidences exists, the consequences in terms of economic damage to the country due to food pathogens are well illustrated as seen below: 

"Salmonella causes an estimated $3.7 billion each year in medical costs for Americans, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service. That figure places Salmonella at the top of the rankings for the15 most costly foodborne illnesses. USDA says it regularly updates its cost estimates for food borne pathogens to keep policy makers and the public informed about the relative impact of food borne illness.The top 15 foodborne pathogens account for 95 percent of illnesses and deaths related to food in the U.S.
The 15 costliest foodborne pathogens are as follows:
    1. Salmonella – $3.7 billion; 1,027,561 total cases; 19,336 hospitalized; 378 deaths
    2. Toxoplasma gondii – $3.3 billion; 86,686 cases; 4,428 hospitalized; 343 deaths
    3. Listeria monocytogenes – $2.8 billion; 1,591 cases; 1,173 hospitalized; 306 deaths
    4. Norovirus – $2.3 billion; 5,461,731 cases; 14,663 hospitalized; 149 deaths
    5. Campylobacter – $1.9 billion; 845,024 cases; 8,463 hospitalized; 76 deaths
    6. Clostridium perfringens – $343 million; 965,958 cases; 438 hospitalized; 26 deaths
    7. Vibrio vulnificus - $320 million; 96 cases; 93 hospitalized; 36 deaths
    8. Yersinia enterocolitica - $278 million; 97,656 cases; 480 hospitalized; 29 deaths
    9. E. coli O157 – $271 million; 63,153 cases; 2,138 hospitalized; 30 deaths
    10. Vibrio (all other non-cholera species) - 17,564 cases; 83 hospitalized; 8 deaths
    11. Shigella – $138 million; 131,254 cases; 1,456 hospitalized; 10 deaths
    12. Cryptosporidium – $52 million; 57,616 cases; 210 hospitalized; 4 deaths
    13. Vibrio parahaemolyticus – $41 million; 34,664 cases; 100 hospitalized; 4 deaths
    14. E. coli non-O157 – $27 million; 112,752 cases; 271 hospitalized; 1 death
    15. Cyclospora – $2 million; 11,407 cases; 11 hospitalized; zero deaths
Deaths accounted for the greatest costs incurred from food poisoning. For example, the 378 deaths attributed to Salmonella accounted for 89 percent of the total cost associated with the pathogen, despite Salmonella's 0.04-percent death rate. Other costs incurred can include medical costs, time away from work, and the societal willingness to pay to prevent deaths, USDA said. "Cost estimates of food borne illnesses have been used in the past to help inform food-safety policy discussions," the agency noted, "and these updated cost estimates will provide a foundation for economic analysis of food safety policy."
Why such colossal damage happens only in the US is some what puzzling but one can get a clue when the reporting systems regarding food safety incidences elsewhere in the world is examined. In most developing countries there is very little data base to look at when any comparison is to be drawn with the record of the US in safety vigilance. In most of the developed countries there is reliable data base though they may not be as meticulous as that practiced in the US. Probably WHO of the UN can help those countries not having data recording system vis-a-vis food poisoning to set up the same with a little bit of economic and technical help which will go a long way in tackling food related diseases through scientific surveillance and rapid response regime.


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