Most Food Illnesses Come From Greens
Spoiled shellfish and unrefrigerated mayonnaise are notorious for causing digestive troubles, but the most common cause of food-borne illness is leafy vegetables like lettuce, according to a new study, and the most common cause of death is contaminated poultry.
A study in the March issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases estimates that 1,451 people died from 1998 to 2008 in outbreaks of food-borne illness. Meat and poultry accounted for 28.7 percent of deaths, dairy products (including eggs) for 14.5 percent and vegetables for 16.4 percent.
But more than half of all food-borne illnesses were caused by plant foods, which made more than 4.9 million people sick. Leafy vegetables like spinach, above, led the list, with 2.1 million people falling ill after eating them. The dreaded shellfish caused 330,981 complaints, just 3.4 percent of the 9.6 million illnesses caused by contaminated food.
A co-author of the study, Dr. Robert V. Tauxe of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said produce-related illnesses come largely from a norovirus infection of the food preparer. Poultry is often contaminated with salmonella and listeria. But, he said, “It’s important to understand that we didn’t try to estimate the risk per dinner — in fact, the risk per dinner is very low. ”