A CDC government study has fingered leafy greens like lettuce and spinach as the leading source of food poisoning, an awkward conclusion for health officials who have urged Americans to eat healthier and to consume more fruits and vegetables
The Centers for Disease Control study found that, in 20% of cases where a person contracted a foodborne illness, leafy green vegetables were the source of the illness.
Every year, 1 out of every 6 Americans contracts a foodborne illness. Of those who become ill, 128,000 require a stay in the hospital and another 3,000 die from the illness or related conditions. In Canada our friends to the North, have a shocking food poisoning rate that is more than twice that of the United States, something to remember if you are planning a visit to Canada.
Many of the people who got sick from eating leafy green vegetables contracted the Norovirus. The Norovirus is a virus that causes what most people usually refer as the “stomach flu”. Symptoms usually include vomiting and diarrhea.
The Norovirus is a fast moving illness and symptoms usually occur in only 10 hours after first being exposed. Generally, the illness is short-lived, lasting between 1 and 3 days.
Produce can get contaminated with Norovirus in the fields if they come into contact with dirty water or water that has had contact with animal waste. Recently, the FDA released a proposed new rule for produce safety that would set new hygiene standards for farm workers which would try to reduce contact with animal waste and dirty water.
Another way that produce can get contaminated with Norovirus is by food handlers and cleanliness in the kitchen. Consumers are sometimes surprised when they learn that contamination sometimes has more to do with the kitchen or restaurant it came from then the food itself
Unlike the flu, there’s no effective treatment (vaccine), but there are ways to reduce your risk; however, most people are surprised to learn that hand sanitizer is not one of them. Thorough hand washing with Soap and Water is the best route to prevention.
Vegetable-related illnesses are more common in sheer numbers, but they are not the most dangerous which might explain the lack of emphasis for produce safety in the past. Other food poisonings from meat and poultry have taken center stage in the past.
Red meat was once the leading source of food poisoning but that is no longer the case. Most people remember the deadly outbreak of E. coli associated with hamburger but there have been significant safety improvements in the handling of red meat.
The largest proportion of foodborne illness deaths – about 1 in 5 – were caused by poultry, partly because three big outbreaks more than 10 years ago linked to turkey deli meat. According to CDC estimates, between the years 1998-2008 there have been 277 poultry-related deaths compared to 236 vegetable-related deaths so the difference is closer than most people think.
The emphasis when it comes to food safety is always prevention. Remember that many of these illness causing microbes can’t be neutralized with hand Sanitizer. In addition, Hand Sanitizers are not recommended for a child which is a precaution that is usually ignored. And of course the penultimate take-away which would significantly show the biggest improvement in food-related illnesses is hand-washing using Soap, Water and a Clean disposable hand towel.