A recent report from the CDC shows that leafy greens are the primary source of foodborne illness.
Researchers at the CDC looked at foods associated with outbreaks between 1998 and 2008. They found that 51% of those illnesses were traced back to plant foods.
Further breaking it down, they found that leafy vegetables were the source of 22% of illnesses, more than any other food group. Fruits and nuts were the source of nearly 12% of illnesses and vine-stalk vegetables (gourds, cucumbers, celery, for example) were the source of another 8%. Leafy vegetables were also the cause of 14% of hospitalizations and the cause of 6% of deaths.
Poultry was the source of 10% of the illnesses, 12% of the hospitalizations, and the largest cause of deaths – 19%.
The recent study in Canada finding pathogens in pre-washed leafy greens underscores the risk in our food systems. Washing foods doesn’t remove all the microorganisms, although it’s a good start. Cooking kills many pathogens, but some foods, such as salads, are eaten raw.
Careful food preparation at home and in commercial kitchens is important, but it’s not the whole answer. Pathogens can enter the food supply at many places between the field and the kitchen. A thorough assessment of potential sources of contamination needs to be performed at every step of the process.
Salad photo via Shutterstock