Fresh produce is the cause of most foodborne illnesses in the U.S., reports the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
In a study of outbreaks that occurred between 2004 and 2013, the consumer advocacy group found that fresh produce, such as cilantro, cucumbers, cantaloupes and peppers, caused 629 outbreaks and almost 20,000 illnesses.
But that doesn’t mean you should skimp on fruits and vegetables.
“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.
In addition, the number of outbreaks appears to decline sharply in 2009, but that may be due to changes in how norovirus is classified and not an actual reduction in illnesses from foodborne causes.
CSPI recommends that CDC continue to work with state and local health departments to standardize and maintain the consistent reporting rates seen since 2010, while also addressing the disparities in reporting rates among different states.
And Congress should fully fund improvements to the surveillance system, including providing more assistance to state public health efforts, the group stated.
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