Leafy green vegetables such as lettuce and spinach have been found to be one of the top sources of food poisoning, according to a new report released by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
Each year, nearly 48 million Americans, roughly 1 in 6, catch a food-borne illness. These numbers include 128,000 hospitalizations and 2,000 deaths. This new report reveals which foods are to blame for these stomach illnesses, based on a decade of data.
According to the CDC, a food-borne disease outbreak is defined as the occurrence of two or more similar sicknesses caused by consumption of a common food.
While many people have become sick from plants, more have died from tainted poultry. The experts reiterate the frequently heard advice: “thoroughly wash food and cook them completely before consumption”.
Close to half of all reported illnesses were caused by “produce”. Produce was defined as fruits, nuts, leafy greens and other vegetables. Among produce, leafy greens were most frequently associated with food-borne illness. Generally, norovirus was the germ responsible for the illness.
Regarding infections, dairy was the second most common food source. Poultry was responsible for the most deaths, affecting 19 percent of fatal cases. Most were associated with listeria and salmonella infections. Meat and poultry combined were responsible for 29 percent of deaths and 22 percent of illnesses.
For the 17 food groups that were documented, all 17 were responsible for at least some outbreaks. Nearly half of all outbreaks were caused by a food that consisted of ingredients from several different categories.
Fish and shellfish made up for 6.1 percent of illnesses and 6.4 percent of deaths, while dairy and eggs made up 20 percent of illnesses and 15 percent of deaths.
Officials from the CDC have emphasized that their report should not discourage people from consuming vegetables. Most of the vegetable-related sicknesses came from norovirus, often passed by food handlers and cooks. Therefore, contamination is more related to how the kitchen or restaurant handles the food, rather than the actual food itself.
Despite the frequency of vegetable-related illnesses, they were not the most harmful. The largest proportion of deaths from food-borne illness, 1 in 5, were due to poultry.
Traditionally, red meat has been seen as one of the leading causes of food poisoning. However, due to significant safety improvements in beef handling, the study reported that deaths associated with beef accounted for less than 4 percent of the food-related deaths, and less than 7 percent of sicknesses.
The CDC hopes this report will encourage public health, regulatory, and food industry professionals in promoting and putting into action safe food-handing practices.
In a similar report from 2010, the CDC documented that 48 million people in the U.S. contract a food-born illness annually. During that year they had also recommended – when cooking – to separate food and produce, cook meat and poultry at the correct temperatures, and immediately refrigerate any leftovers. Also, they recommended avoiding consumption of unpasteurized milk and cheese.
Written by Kelly Fitzgerald