Food for Thought

An op-ed by author Eric Schlosser in Saturday’s New York Times focused on the issue of food-borne illness and called on the U.S. Senate to pass food safety legislation.

Estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) quoted by Schlosser indicate the scale of the problem:

Every day, about 200,000 Americans are sickened by contaminated food. Every year, about 325,000 are hospitalized by a food-borne illness. And the number who are killed annually by something they ate is roughly the same as the number of Americans who’ve been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003.†

Schlosser went on to observe that while the elderly and people with compromised immune systems face an elevated risk from food borne pathogens like listeria, campylobacter and salmonella, by far the most vulnerable group are children under the age of four.

The economic cost of the problem is also huge. A recent study sponsored by Pew Charitable Trusts puts the total annual health-related cost of food-borne illness in the U.S. at about $152 billion.

Schlosser notes that legislation in the Senate would give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the power to order the recall of contaminated foods and punish companies that knowingly sell them. It would also improve the FDA’s ability to trace outbreaks back to their source.

It’s not the first time our attention has been drawn to food-borne illness this summer.

CDC research issued a few weeks ago found that contaminated salsa or guacamole were responsible for nearly 1 in every 25 food-borne illness outbreaks linked to food in restaurants between 1998 and 2008.

This was more than double the rate during the previous decade.

This brings us to the insurance angle. Food service businesses face a range of risks, but any business that serves food carries the risk that its product could cause food poisoning or transmit a communicable disease.

Check out I.I.I. information on insurance for food service businesses.

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