OSU Faculty Evaluates PulseNet, food-born illness electronic network.

Tainted food is responsible for about 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths in the United States each year.

About 276,000 cases of foodborne illness are avoided each year because of PulseNet, a 20-year-old network coordinated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, new research has found. PulseNet links U.S. public health laboratories so that they can speedily share details about E. coli, Salmonella and other bacterial illnesses.

The averted illnesses translate to $507 million in annual savings on medical bills and lost productivity, according to a study led by Robert L. Scharff of The Ohio State University and Craig Hedberg of the University of Minnesota.

PulseNet has created a climate that encourages better business practices and swift response to trouble, Scharff said, and that likely explains most of the avoided illnesses in the study.

In the face of public scrutiny, lawsuits and lost revenue, businesses have responded with better self-policing, Scharff worked with experts from the CDC and elsewhere to assign a value to PulseNet, both in terms of illnesses prevented and dollars saved. The team analyzed data from 1994 to 2009.

The results, published in conjunction with PulseNet’s 20th anniversary, appear in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.