Leafy Greens Leading Cause of Food Borne Illness

A recent federal investigation revealed that leafy greens, such as spinach and lettuce, are the nation’s leading causes of food poisoning. Food contamination lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm note that, although leafy greens caused the most sickness, poisoning from contaminated poultry was the leading cause of death.

The study was conducted by government researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who maintain that these finding should not prevent anyone from eating produce. Consumers should just be considerably more careful when preparing their food. Experts relay the often heard advice of cooking food all the way through and always washing food and hands before eating and cooking.

The CDC reports that about 48 million Americans get sick with food poisoning every year. That is one in six people, including 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. The study examined the sources of this food poisoning between the years 1998 and 2008. Of these 48 million illnesses, 1 in 5 were due to leafy green vegetables, which was more than any other food. When adding in other types of fruits and vegetables, the number rocketed to half the contaminations arising from produce. Produce of all types caused more than 330 deaths in the ten-year period. Vegetables alone killed 236 people.

A large percentage (42%) of the vegetable-related illnesses were caused by derivatives of the norovirus, which is a flu-like virus. Noroviruses can transfer to food, water or surfaces through bodily contact with infected persons who did not washed properly after using the bathroom. The sickness, then, comes from the handling of food by cooks, caterers, servers, or anyone else coming in contact with food right before it is consumed.

Salmonella was the second largest cause of food borne illnesses, accounting for 30% of the outbreaks. The bacteria caused more than 580 hospitalizations, more than any other toxin, and killed five people. Listeria caused an inordinate number of hospitalizations as well, with 82% of those infected admitted to the hospital.

In related news, Sprouters Northwest Inc., is recalling nearly one ton of sprout products due to possible listeria contamination. The Washington State Department of Agriculture conducted a surveillance sampling test and found two sprout samples that tested positive for listeria. Nearly 2,000 pounds of sprouts were recalled, with an expiration date of January 31st. Sprouters Northwest sells its products in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Canada’s British Columbia.

Four of the company’s sprout varieties are under recall: alfalfa sprouts, brocco sandwich sprouts, clover sprouts, and spicy sprouts. They are packaged in three, four, and five ounce bags, and one and two pound trays. Listeria is a serious infection, causing symptoms like fever, muscle aches, headache, confusion, loss of balance, stiff neck, and convulsions. In pregnant women, listeria infections can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, or life-threatening infections in the newborn.

In 2011, a large-scale recall was initiated for cantaloupes from Colorado that were infected with listeria. The outbreak affected nearly 150 people in 28 states, and killed 33. One pregnant woman suffered a miscarriage.

This report suggests that the FDA was rightfully stringent when proposing new rule changes to the food industry. Earlier this January, the agency announced the country’s most sweeping food safety reform in 70 years as part of the Food Safety Modernization Act. The new standards will, among other things, require food manufacturers to create formal plans outlining how they will prevent dangerous contaminations and food-borne illnesses. Additionally, the proposals cite specific changes in farming regulations, including requiring farmers to wash their hands, install portable toilets in fields, and build fences to reduce contact with animals.

Reports such as this are integral for preventing disease and developing strategies for safer food. Food contamination lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm remind the public to always perform all safety measures before handling and consuming food, particularly leafy greens.


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