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THE ECONOMICS OF IMPROVING FOOD SAFETY Stephen R. Crutchfield and Jane Allshouse Economic Research Service/USDA Introduction Americans have access to one of the most abun- dant, diverse and inexpensive food supplies in the world. The economic privilege enjoyed by the people of America in comparison to those of other nations, however, has created higher expectations by consum- ers about the variety and quality of their food pur- chases. Access to information about large outbreaks of food-related illnesses and death has also heightened consumer concerns about the safety of their food. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that between 6 million and 33 million people contract food-borne illnesses from microbial pathogens each year and of those, as many as 9,000 die. Buzby et al. studied the extent of food-borne ill- nesses caused by seven major microbial pathogens (E. coli 0157:H7, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, Campylobacter Clostridium perfringens, and Toxoplasma gondii). Results of the study indicated, that, in 1996, there were an estimated 3.3 to 12.4 million U.S. cases of food-borne illnesses from the seven pathogens studied, and up to 3,700 associated deaths (Table 1). There are additional mi- crobial pathogens, perhaps as many as 40, for which illness and death estimates are not currently available. Other sources of food safety risk include chemical contamination of food-such as nitrates in drinking water and pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables. Although scientists believe that the health risks asso- ciated with chemical contamination of food and drink- ing water are lower than the health risks associated with microbial pathogens, studies show that consum- ers still consider them to be significant risks. The price of food, as well as its convenience, ap- pearance, and nutritional content, have a major influ- ence on choices made in the marketplace. Consumer concerns about food safety should have a similar im- pact. In

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