The economic burden of illness depends on its frequency, severity, and health impact. Estimates of the cost of foodborne illness play an important role in guiding government efforts to prevent foodborne illness in the United States. The USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) published its first comprehensive cost estimates for sixteen foodborne bacterial pathogens in 1989. In 2000, the ERS estimated that the cost of illness from five major foodborne pathogens, including Salmonella, was $6.9 billion per year.
In 2012, new comprehensive cost-of-illness estimates were published for the first time in a decade. Integrating the 2011 Scallan et al. estimates of foodborne illness, Scharff used an enhanced cost-of-illness model that incorporated a more inclusive pain, suffering, and functional disability measure. Scharff estimated the annual cost of foodborne illness for all pathogens to be as high as $77.7 billion (90% Confidence Interval, $28.6 to $144.6 billion). In the same year, Hoffman et al. estimated that illness from 14 major pathogens in the U.S. costs $14.1 billion.
The difference between the two estimates is driven by several factors used to calculate cost estimates in the two studies. The studies consider different medical complications associated with foodborne illnesses and use different methods to place a value on lost pregnancies, neonatal deaths, and the productivity of parents taking time away from work to care for sick children. When these methodological differences are controlled for statistically, the estimates are more closely aligned ($14.1 billion, Hoffmann et al. and $16.3 billion, Scharff).
However, there is little difference in the ranking of cost per pathogen between the two studies. Both Hoffmann et al. and Scharff estimated the cost of nontyphoidal Salmonella to be the highest among all foodborne pathogens. Hoffmann et al. estimated the total economic burden of foodborne Salmonella in the United States to be $3.7 billion in 2013. Scharff estimated the annual cost of foodborne Salmonella to be $1.14 billion (90% Confidence Interval, 2.45 million to 2.9 billion).