Fresh produce such as celery, cilantro, cucumbers, leafy greens and tomatoes is the most common source of food poisoning outbreaks, according to a new report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The non profit food safety watchdog group looks at 10 years of outbreak data to compile the report title Outbreak Alert 2015.
During that time period, fresh produce sickened almost 20,00o people and was the source of 629 outbreaks, according to the group. But that doesn’t mean Americans should remove fresh produce from their diets, says David Plunkett, co-author of the report.
“You are twice as likely to get sick from eating a serving of chicken as from eating a serving of vegetables,” said Plunkett. “The data support improving the safety of our produce supply but don’t support eating less fruits and vegetables, which provide valuable nutrients.”
An outbreak is defined as two or more cases of a similar illness caused by the same food source. From 2004 to 2013, 193,754 illnesses from 9,626 outbreaks were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In most outbreaks, the food source is not discovered. Of the 9,626 outbreaks reported during that 10-year period, the agency was able to identify the food source and contaminant in 3,485 of them. The CSPI report reviews only those outbreaks.
The report’s authors found: that seafood is the second leading cause of outbreaks. However, outbreaks linked to seafood are usually small, so other foods cause more illnesses; that poultry caused more outbreaks and illnesses than either beef or pork and that restaurants are the source of most outbreaks.
Some recent outbreaks highlight those findings. A September Salmonella outbreak that sickened 64 people who ate at Chipotle restaurants in Minnesota was linked to tomatoes. An E. coli outbreak linked to Taylor Farms celery used to make Costco Rotisserie Chicken Salad has sickened 19 people in seven states. Five people have been hospitalized; two of them have hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a life-threatening complication that causes kidney failure, seizure, stroke and coma. And a Salmonella outbreak linked to cucumbers has sickened 838 people in 38 states. The cucumbers are responsible for 165 hospitalizations and four fatalities.
With health officials able to solve less than forty percent of outbreaks, Plunkett said the report highlights the need for a better food safety net. “Far too many outbreaks are not getting solved quickly or are going unsolved altogether, thereby forgoing opportunities to implement corrective measures,” he said. “We need a better surveillance system.”