October 25, 2021

Children in Poverty Face Greater Food Safety Risks

A new report by the Consumer Federation of America finds that children from low-income families are at greater risk for foodborne illness and unintentional product injuries than children from higher-income families. The report, titled Child Poverty, Unintentional Injuries and Foodborne Illness: Are Low Income Children at Greater Risk? concluded that researchers must collect better data on the relationship of family income to foodborne illness incidence. More than 2/5 of the 73 million children in America are from low-income families.

Feeding-BabyThe report was based on data collected through FoodNet, the CDC’s national foodborne illness surveillance system. According to that data, children under the age of 15 account for half of all foodborne illnesses in this country. Children under the age of 5 are particularly vulnerable. One report estimates that just five pathogenic bacteria (Campylobacter, Salmonella, Shigella, E. coli, and STEC) account for 291,162 laboratory-confirmed illnesses every year among children under the age of 5.

Researchers found that “economic deprivation increases the likelihood of bacterial, parasitic, and viral infections. This research links higher rates of particular foodborne illnesses because of factors such as poorer nutrition, geater exposure to food safety risks in retail stores located in lower-income neighborhoods, and poorer access to health care.” The report stated that a mitigating factor in foodborne illness risk is that poorer households consume fewer high risk foods such as eggs and meat and eat more processed foods. Inspection scores for retail food establishments in Detroit found that “for each additional ten percent of individuals below the poverty line there was an increase of 0.6 critical food safety violations.”

Most research on income and food safety has focused on identifying barriers to acquiring safe food for poorer families. A 2011 study by Signs, Darcey, Carney, Evans, & Quinlan found that egg samples from low-income census tracts had higher internal temperatures, which can increase bacterial growth. That same study found that milk samples from lower-income neighborhoods had higher aerobic plate count, which indicates temperature abuse. In addition, poor infrastructure, lack of refrigeration, and limited resources are barriers to adequate food safety regulation compliance.

Foodborne illness costs this country $77.7 billion every year in medical costs and lost productivity. The latest estimates of the cost of an individual case of foodborne illness is $1,626.


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