Food-related illnesses are a massive problem in the United States. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 4,589 disease outbreaks between 1998 and 2008 caused by contaminated food products. The products responsible for almost half of the total outbreaks during that period are leafy green vegetables. Lettuce, spinach and other leafy greens were the cause of 46 percent of reported infections. Of those, the most common illness reported was norovirus. Noroviruses cause stomach cramping, diarrhea and vomiting. Norovirus is actually the number one cause of diarrhea in adults.
While leafy green vegetables led to numerous infections, they may not be the most serious problem among food safety concerns. Contaminated poultry was the most common cause of food-related deaths. Contaminated meat and poultry led to 29 percent of the food-related deaths. Contaminated poultry alone was the cause of 19 percent of food-related deaths in that 10-year period. Listeria and Salmonella were pathogens frequently associated with fatalities caused by poultry.
Several interested facts about food-borne illnesses could be found in the study. More than 4 out of every 5 illness outbreaks were tied to food prepared in restaurants, catering businesses and other commercial settings. More than half of all food-related norovirus outbreaks were the result of sick food handlers. Such conclusions could lead to changes in safety policies affecting food service workers.
The CDC had never before conducted a comprehensive study of this type. It is hoped that the results will help food safety workers target dangerous practices and reduce the number of illnesses and deaths caused by contaminated food products.
Source: Los Angeles Times, “Leafy greens responsible for 46% of food-borne illnesses, CDC says,” by Ricardo Lopez, 29 January 2013