US: new study assesses economic cost of flour-related foodborne illnesses

A recent study funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) discovered that from 2001 to 2021, flour and flour-based food products contributed to foodborne illnesses in the United States, costing approximately USD 258 million.    

The study, conducted by researchers at Ohio State University (OSU) and Michigan State University (MSU), estimates the total economic cost of foodborne illnesses in the US to be around USD 97.4 billion annually.    

To address the lack of information regarding the link between wheat flour, flour-based foods, and foodborne illness, the study aimed to connect incidence and cost estimates to specific food items. The researchers sought to pinpoint the bacteria responsible for the outbreaks, the main sources of contamination, as well as the public health and economic consequences related to these events.    

The study identified nine outbreaks connected to flour and flour-based products in the U.S. between 2001 and 2021, with each outbreak confirmed by laboratory or culture tests.  Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and E. coli O121 were responsible for the outbreaks, accounting for 752 cases of illness, 223 hospitalizations, and no fatalities. Salmonella accounted for 75% of all cases, while the remaining outbreaks and cases were attributed to E. coli.    

Two separate estimates were generated for the economic burden of foodborne illnesses linked to flour and flour-based products in the U.S. during the reporting period: USD 108 million (basic model) and USD 258 million (advanced model). The pathogens responsible for the highest financial losses were Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, and E. coli O121.    

Most patients in the outbreaks admitted to consuming raw or undercooked flour or flour-based products, highlighting the importance of increased public awareness and the implementation of behavioral interventions.        



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