USDA Economics Research Service
Economics of Foodborne Disease:
Estimating the Benefits of Reducing Foodborne Disease
In 2000, ERS Estimated the Cost From Five Bacterial Foodborne Pathogens as $6.9 Billion
ERS estimates released in 2000 for medical costs, productivity losses, and costs of premature deaths for diseases
caused by five foodborne pathogens total $6.9 billion per year. The five bacterial pathogens included are:
Campylobacter (all serotypes), Salmonella (nontyphoidal), E. coli O157, E. coli non-O157 STEC, and Listeria
The estimates for all five pathogens are based on estimates for cases, hospitalizations, and deaths attributable to these
pathogens released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1999. The estimates value premature
death using an age-adjusted approach. The assumed cost of each death is about five times higher for children who die
before their first birthday than for individuals who die at age 85 or older.
Updated estimates for Salmonella released in 2003 incorporate further adjustments to the distribution of cases across
severity categories and update all cost components to 2001 dollars. See the ERS Foodborne Illness Cost Calculator for
further details, and to explore the effect of alternative assumptions on cost estimates.
Estimated annual costs due to selected foodborne pathogens, 2000
Pathogen Estimated annual foodborne
Pathogen Cases Hospitalizations Deaths Costs3,4
Campylobacter spp 1,963,141 10,539 99 1.2
Salmonella5 1,341,873 15,608 553 2.4
E. coli O157 62,458 1,843 52 0.7
E. coli, non-O157 STEC 31,229 921 26 0.3
Listeria monocytogenes 2,493 2,298 499 2.3
Total 3,401,194 31,209 1,229 6.9
1/ These estimates of foodborne illness costs are not directly comparable to earlier ERS estimates of the costs of
foodborne disease, which were based on earlier data and methodologies for valuing costs.
2/ Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food-Related Illness and Death in the United States.
3/ The total estimated costs include specific chronic complications in the case of Campylobacter (Guillain-Barré
syndrome), E. coli O157 (hemolytic uremic syndrome), and Listeria monocytogenes (congenital and newborn infections
resulting in chronic disability or impairment). Estimated costs for Listeria monocytogenes exclude less serious cases that
do not require hospitalization.
4/ ERS currently measures the productivity losses due to nonfatal foodborne illnesses by the value of forgone or lost
wages, regardless of whether the lost wages involved a few days missed from work or a permanent disability that
prevented an individual from returning to work. Using the value of lost wages for cases resulting in disability probably
understates an individual's willingness to pay to avoid disability because it does not account for the value placed on
avoiding pain and suffering. The willingness-to-pay measure derived from labor market studies that ERS uses to value a
premature death is not an appropriate measure of willingness to pay to avoid disability, because it measures the higher
wages paid to workers to accept a higher risk of premature death, not disability. Methods have been suggested to adjust
willingness to pay to reduce the risk of premature death downward to estimate willingness to pay to avoid disability, such
as the approach based on measuring "Quality Adjusted Life Years" (QALYs). As yet, there is no consensus among
economists about how to use these methods to value willingness to pay to avoid the disability, pain, and suffering
associated with foodborne illnesses. ERS's conservative estimates of the annual costs due to foodborne illnesses
(particularly the chronic conditions associated with Campylobacter) would be substantially increased if willingness to pay
to avoid disability, pain, and suffering were also taken into account.
5/ ERS updated the costs estimates for Salmonella in 2003. See the Salmonella chapter in the Economics of Foodborne
Illness briefing room, and the ERS Foodborne Illness Cost Calculator for details.