When we think about food poisoning, our thoughts usually turn to runny eggs, pink hamburger meat, and warm mayonnaise. But maybe we should be afraid of salads. A new study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reports that the most common cause of food-borne illness are leafy green vegetables such as lettuce and spinach. According to the study, not only did fruit, nuts and vegetables account for 46.1 percent of food-borne illnesses in the U.S. between 1998 and 2008, but salad greens were responsible for 23 percent of sicknesses, higher than any other type of food.
The CDC says that despite advances in food safety, each year, major pathogens cause almost 10 million food-borne illnesses in the U.S. The prevention of these illnesses is a challenge because linking an individual sickness to a specific food is almost impossible except during an outbreak; most “agents” are transmitted through a variety of foods. The agency used data from outbreak-related illnesses to complete its study.
The CDC reported that after leafy green vegetables, foods most commonly linked to food poisoning were dairy products, fruits and nuts, and poultry.
Of the 17 “commodities” included in the study, poultry accounted for the most deaths; most were attributed to common food-borne illnesses including Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella. Norovirus infection, the most common cause of gastroenteritis (what some call “the stomach or cruise ship flu”) caused 57 percent of all illnesses.
Norovirus comprised 57% of all illnesses associated with contaminated foods in the U.S., according to the CDC, including leafy greens, fresh fruit, and shellfish. But any food that is either served raw or handled by someone with the virus can become contaminated. Noroviruses are the most common cause of gastroenteritis in the country, and norovirus is estimated to cause more than 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths a year. The virus is often spread by food handlers and cooks.
The best way to prevent coming down with a nasty case of food poisoning is by washing all produce well, cooking meats, fish and eggs thoroughly and also by washing your hands before eating or handling food. Now if we could just keep an eye on that chef in the restaurant kitchen…