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March 11, 1983

Economic Impact of a Botulism Outbreak: Importance of the Legal Component in Food-Borne Disease

Author Affiliations

From the Health Services Division, New Mexico Health and Environment Department, Santa Fe (Dr Mann); and the Epidemiology Division, USAF School of Aerospace Medicine, Brooks AFB, Tex (Dr Lathrop). Mr Bannerman is in private practice in Albuquerque.

JAMA. 1983;249(10):1299-1301. doi:10.1001/jama.1983.03330340041028

Legal expenses arising from food-borne outbreaks have not been reported in the medical literature, to the best of our knowledge. Expenses of an outbreak of food-borne botulism involving 34 victims in 1978 exceeded $5.8 million. These included outbreak investigation and control (3.2% of total), medical care for patients with botulism from April 1978 through October 1981 (12.3%), and settlements and legal charges (84.4%). Legal actions following food-borne outbreaks must be recognized for several reasons. First, the delay between the outbreak and the conclusion of legal activity (three years in this instance) mandates prompt and meticulous written documentation of investigation and control work. Second, legal expenses may make a large contribution to the total societal impact of food-borne disease outbreaks. Finally, awareness of the legal expense strengthens the rationale for public and private expenditures on food-borne disease prevention in this country.

(JAMA 1983;249:1299-1301)