Fresh produce items like cilantro, cucumbers, cantaloupes, and peppers that are often eaten raw cause more foodborne illness than any other single category of food, according to a study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The nonprofit food safety group reviewed 10 years of outbreak data to determine which foods are most often linked to outbreaks of foodborne disease and identify trends in illnesses. Over the period studied, fresh produce caused 629 outbreaks and almost 20,000 illnesses.
But that doesn’t mean Americans should avoid fruits and vegetables, CSPI says. While the number of outbreaks and illnesses is large, on a pound-for-pound basis fresh produce is safer than many other foods.
“You are twice as likely to get sick from eating a serving of chicken as from eating a serving of vegetables,” said CSPI Senior Food Safety Attorney David Plunkett, co-author of the report. “The data support improving the safety of our produce supply but don’t support eating less fruits and vegetables, which provide valuable nutrients.”
Over the period studied, there was a total of 193,754 illnesses reported from 9,626 outbreaks. Of the total number of reported outbreaks, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was able to identify both the food source and the contaminant in fewer than 40 percent. CSPI only reviewed the 3,485 solved outbreaks.
The report also found that seafood caused more illnesses per pound consumed than any other food category, while fruits, vegetables and dairy caused the fewest illnesses per pound consumed.
Based on its review, CSPI urged Congress fund full implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, which includes produce safety standards. To find out more about FSMA and new Produce Rule, download our e-book FSMA 101: The Must-Know Facts about the Food Safety Modernization Act.