The Role of Surveillance in Promoting Food Safety

  • Robert L. ScharffEmail author
  • Craig Hedberg
Part of the Food Microbiology and Food Safety book series (FMFS)


Foodborne illness surveillance systems are designed to collect, analyze, and disseminate information about foodborne illnesses. Consequently, they help solve critical information problems faced by consumers, firms, and government agencies. By providing better information to the market, these surveillance systems create incentives (accountability) that leads to safer foods and better consumer awareness. For public health officials, surveillance provides a means to identify and mitigate current outbreaks, prioritize resources, and craft better preventative interventions.

To illustrate the economic value of surveillance, we provide an analysis of one system (PulseNet) using updated economic data and models. PulseNet-related activities lead to substantial social benefits due to reductions in illnesses due to Salmonella spp. and E. coli O157:H7. Adjusting for underreporting and underdiagnosis, as many as 330,840 Salmonella- and 17,475 E. coli-related illnesses are averted each year due to PulseNet. This leads to economic benefits of up to $5.4 billion.


Disease surveillance PulseNet Cost of illness Economic impact Burden of illness Food safety Foodborne disease Foodborne illness 



Centers for Disease Control Research and Prevention/US


Council to Improve Foodborne Outbreak Response


Food and Drug Administration/US


Food Disease Outbreak Surveillance System


Foodborne Outbreak Online Database


Hemolytic uremic syndrome


National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System


National Outbreak Reporting System


Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis


National Molecular Subtyping Network for Foodborne Disease Surveillance


Shiga-toxin E. coli


Whole genome sequencing


United States Department of Agriculture


  1. Akerlof GA. The market for “lemons”: quality uncertainty and the market mechanism. Q J Econ. 1970;84:488–500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Allard MW, Strain E, Melka D, Bunning K, Musser SM, Brown EW, Timme R. Practical value of food pathogen traceability through building a whole-genome sequencing network and database. J Clin Microbiol. 2016;54(8):1975–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Buzby JC, Roberts T. The economics of enteric infections: human foodborne disease costs. Gastroenterology. 2009;136(6):1851–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). MMWR: summary of notifiable diseases, Atlanta. 2015. Accessed 7 Jan 2017.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Surveillance and data systems, Atlanta. 2016. Accessed 7 Jan 2017.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Integrated surveillance information systems/NEDSS, Atlanta. 2017. Accessed 8 May 2017.
  7. Chunara R, Andrews JR, Brownstein JS. Social and news media enable estimation of epidemiological patterns early in the 2010 Haitian cholera outbreak. Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2012;86(1):39–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Council to Improve Foodborne Outbreak Response (CIFOR). Guidelines for foodborne disease outbreak response. 2nd ed. Atlanta: Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists; 2014.Google Scholar
  9. Elbasha EH, Riggs TL. The effects of information on producer and consumer incentives to undertake food safety efforts: a theoretical model and policy implications. Agribusiness. 2003;19(1):29–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Whole genome sequencing (WGS) program. 2017, Silver Spring. Accessed 13 May 2017.
  11. Ford L, Miller M, Cawthorne A, Fearnley E, Kirk M. Approaches to the surveillance of foodborne disease: a review of the evidence. Foodborne Pathog Dis. 2015;12(12):927–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Henson S, Caswell J. Food safety regulation: an overview of contemporary issues. Food Policy. 1999;24(6):589–603.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hobbs JE. Information asymmetry and the role of traceability systems. Agribusiness. 2004;20(4):397–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hobbs JE. Public and private standards for food safety and quality: international trade implications. Estey Centre J Int Law Trade Policy. 2010;11(1):136.Google Scholar
  15. Klontz KC, Klontz JC, Mody RK, Hoekstra RM. Analysis of Tomato and Jalapeño and Serrano pepper imports into the United States from Mexico before and during a national outbreak of Salmonella serotype Saintpaul infections in 2008. J Food Prot. 2010;73(11):1967–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. McCluskey J. A game theoretic approach to organic foods: an analysis of asymmetric information and policy. J Agric Resour Econ. 2000;29(1):1–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Scharff RL. State estimates for the annual cost of foodborne illness. J Food Prot. 2015;78(6):1064–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Scharff RL, Besser J, Sharp DJ, Jones TF, Peter GS, Hedberg CW. An economic evaluation of PulseNet: a network for foodborne disease surveillance. Am J Prev Med. 2016;50(5):S66–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Unnevehr L, Eales J, Jensen H, Lusk J, McCluskey J, Kinsey J. Food and consumer economics. Am J Agric Econ. 2010;92(2):506–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Human SciencesThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  2. 2.Division of Environmental Health SciencesUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

Personalised recommendations