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Societal Cost of Foodborne Illness

A brief summation of the information provided in these source documents provides high-level insight into the impact that combating foodborne illness has within society.

Costs to Individuals/Households

  • Human illness costs:
    • Medical costs
    • Physician visits
    • Laboratory costs
    • Hospitalization or nursing home
    • Drugs and other medications
    • Ambulance or other travel costs
  • Income or productivity loss for:
    • Ill person or person dying
    • Caregiver for ill person
  • Other illness costs:
    • Travel costs to visit ill person
    • Home modifications
    • Vocational/physical rehabilitation
    • Child care costs
    • Special educational programs
    • Institutional care
    • Lost leisure time

Psychological (psychic) Costs

  • Pain and other psychological suffering
  • Risk aversion

Averting Behavior Costs

  • Extra cleaning/cooking time costs
  • Extra cost of refrigerator, freezer, etc.
  • Flavor changes from traditional recipes (especially meat, milk, egg dishes)
  • Increased food cost when more expensive but safer foods are purchased
  • Altruism (willingness to pay for others to avoid illness)

Industry Costs

  • Costs of animal production:
    • Morbidity and mortality of animals on farms
    • Reduced growth rate/feed efficiency and increased time to market
    • Costs of disposal of contaminated animals on farm and at slaughterhouse
    • Increased trimming or reworking at slaughterhouse and processing plant
    • Illness among workers because of handling contaminated animals or products
    • Increased meat product spoilage due to pathogen contamination

Control Costs for Pathogens at All Links in the Food Chain:

  • New farm practices (age-segregated housing, sterilized feed, etc.)
  • Altered animal transport and marketing patterns (animal identification, feeding/watering)
  • New slaughterhouse procedures (hide wash, knife sterilization, carcass sterilizing)
  • New processing procedures (pathogen tests, contract purchasing requirements)

More Control Costs

  • Altered product transport (increased use of time/temperature indicators)
  • New wholesale/retail practices (pathogen tests, employee training, procedures)
  • Risk assessment modeling by industry for all links in the food chain
  • Price incentives for pathogen-reduced product at each link in the food chain

Outbreak Costs

  • Herd slaughter/product recall
  • Plant closings and cleanup
  • Regulatory fines
  • Product liability suits from consumers and other firms
  • Reduced product demand because of outbreak:
  • Generic animal product - all firms affected
  • Reduction for specific firm at wholesale or retail level
  • Increased advertising or consumer assurances following outbreak

Regulatory and Public Health Sector Costs for Foodborne Pathogens

  • * Disease surveillance costs to:
  • * Monitor incidence/severity of human disease by foodborne pathogens
  • * Monitor pathogen incidence in the food chain
  • * Develop integrated database from farm to table for foodborne pathogens

Research to:

  • Identify new foodborne pathogens for acute and chronic human illnesses
  • Establish high-risk products and production and consumption practices
  • Identify which consumers are at high-risk for which pathogens
  • Develop cheaper and faster pathogen tests
  • Risk assessment modeling for all links in the food chain

Outbreak Costs:

  • Costs of investigating outbreak
  • Testing to contain an outbreak
    • e.g. example, serum testing & administration of immunoglobulin in persons exposed to Hepatitis A
  • Costs of cleanup
  • Legal suits to enforce regulations that may have been violated

Other Considerations:

  • Distributional effects in different regions, industries, etc.
  • Equity considerations, such as special concern for children


  • Buzby, et al: Bacterial Foodborne Disease: Medical Costs and Productivity Losses
  • AER-741 Economic Research Service/USDA,1996, p.8-9, updated 12/2001


Buzby, et al
USDA Economic Research Service 1996, updated 12/2001

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