Burden of foodborne diseases


Every year, thousands of Danes suffer from foodborne infections. In most cases the infection results in diarrhoea, vomiting and fever. However, some people experience severe complications that require hospitalisation, while others may have health problems several years after the infection.

In disease burden studies at National Food Institute, we describe the impact of specific foodborne pathogens by estimating the number of human cases, the morbidity and mortality and the related financial costs. In many cases, people with a foodborne infection do not seek medical care, so the estimations must take into account that often only a minority of the infections are diagnosed and thus reported to the national databases.

Foodborne illnesses can be prevented as long as we know what is causing them and how we can intervene in the food chain to change the population’s current exposure to these causes. Knowledge on the burden of foodborne illnesses is therefore essential to set public health goals, allocate resources, and measure the public health and economic impact of disease. 

Disease burden is often quantified in terms of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), which combine the burden due to both death and morbidity into one index. A DALY can be understood as the loss of “one year of perfect health”, and the disease burden is a measure of the difference between the actual health status due to a specific foodborne problem and the ideal situation, where all live a long and healthy life without this specific problem. Data from national databases, and results from national and international research projects are used as input to simulations models.

The financial costs are often estimated by the cost-of-illness method (COI), that sum up health care costs (hospitals, general practitioners, medicine, etc.), loss of productivity and the cost of implementing control measures in the food producing industry and the national food and health authorities.

The overall DALY and COI estimates allow for the comparison of the disease burden due to various risk factors or diseases. It also makes it possible to predict the possible impact of health interventions.

Read more on Source attribution of foodborne diseases  

In parallel to Burden of Disease and Source Attribution projects, the National Food Institute has established a working group to compare risks and benefits of various food-associated diseases. The projects are interlinked, sharing data sources and methodologies, and taking advantage of the interdisciplinary competences of our Institute.

Read the full description of the Burden of foodborne diseases research area (pdf)


Statens Serum Institut (SSI)


Research groups


Sara Monteiro Pires
Senior Researcher
National Food Institute
+45 40 21 34 89


Tine Hald
National Food Institute
+45 35 88 70 94
7 MARCH 2021