Most of us associate food poisoning with undercooked hamburger or unrefrigerated eggs. We can all picture raw chicken juices contaminating a fresh salad or raw ground beef contaminating utensils and plates. But the CDC has reported that 5 out of the 15 major foodborne illness outbreaks in 2011 were caused by fresh produce. And 2011 was the most active year for multi-state food poisoning outbreaks in recent history.
The outbreaks were:
- Salmonella Panama in Del Monte Cantaloupe harvested in Guatemala which sickened 20 people in 10 states. Three were hospitalized and no deaths were reported.
- Salmonella Enteritidis in Alfalfa and Spicy Sprouts produced by Evergreen Fresh Sprouts, LLC. A total of 25 people in 5 states were infected; three were hospitalized and no deaths were reported.
- Salmonella Agona in papayas imported from Mexico. Agromod Produce, Inc. recalled the fruit on July 23, 2011. The fruit sickened 106 people in 254 states; ten were hospitalized, but no one died.
- Listeria monocytogenes in Jensen Farms cantaloupes. A total of 146 people in 28 states were infected; 42 had to be hospitalized and 30 people died. One woman suffered a miscarriage.
- Escherichia coli 0157:H7 in romaine lettuce most likely served at Schnucks grocery store salad bars according to epidemiological evidence. Sixty people in 10 states were sickened; 30 were hospitalized, and 2 developed hemolytic uremic syndrome. The lettuce was contaminated before it reached the stores. Two people at Missouri State University and one person at the University of Minnesota were also sickened. The same farm supplied the U of M and Schnucks.
In addition, two outbreaks were associated with nuts. Turkish pine nuts sold at Wegmans stores sickened 43 people in 5 states between July and October in 2011. Two people were hospitalized in that outbreak.
And last spring, hazelnuts distributed by DeFranco & Sons of Los Angeles, California infected with E. coli 0157:H7 caused 8 illnesses and 4 hospitalizations in three states.
Even though there have been no confirmed illnesses to date, Green Valley Food Corp. sprouts were recalled in December 2011 because of possible Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella contamination.
The list did not include all of the outbreaks; just the ones that affected significant numbers of people and those the CDC are actively investigating. These outbreaks are especially worrisome since they were caused by food that is often, if not always, served uncooked. And it’s difficult for the consumer to remove bacteria from foods such as romaine lettuce because of its creases and wrinkles, and cantaloupe because of its webbed skin.