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How Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Are Riskier to Eat Than Raw Fish

The Center for Science in the Public Interest released a report last week, stating that it is in fact fresh produce that is the predominant cause of foodborne illnesses in America.

Alex Swerdloff

Photo via Flickr user jayneandd

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of foodborne illnesses? Is it hanging slabs of bloodied meat? Two-year-old oysters? Or perhaps you're picturing an industrial vat of mayonnaise baking in the Arizona sun.

How about a pastoral garden elegantly lined with vibrant summer vegetables?

If you happened to choose anything but the latter, you clearly don't know shit about the filthy world of food safety. (Plus, you may be watching way too many B-list horror movies.) The Center for Science in the Public Interest released a report last week, stating that it is in fact fresh produce that is the predominant cause of foodborne illnesses in America.

READ: Mexican Cilantro Imports Have Been Banned Due to Fecal Contamination

The consumer group's recently released study tied 20,000 incidents in 629 outbreaks of foodborne illness from 2004 to 2013 in America to produce. We're talking about the likes of cantaloupe, cilantro, peppers, and cucumbers. Yes, that's about 20,000 illnesses caused by dirty, filthy, beautiful produce.

Too bad that doesn't mean that meat is technically any safer to consume than produce. In fact, it's pretty much the opposite. In sheer numbers, we eat a lot more produce as compared to meats, seafood, and other food groups. So, even though produce causes the most problems, pound-for-pound, produce—and, surprisingly, dairy—cause the fewest.

The bottom line is this: "You are twice as likely to get sick from eating a serving of chicken as from eating a serving of vegetables," explains co-author and CSPI Senior Food Safety Attorney, David Plunkett. "The data support improving the safety of our produce supply but don't support eating less fruits and vegetables, which provide valuable nutrients."

And seafood? Pound-for-pound, it is the biggest cause of food-safety related illnesses.

During the nine years covered in the study, a total of 193,754 illnesses were reported arising from 9,626 outbreaks. Unfortunately, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was only able to identify the source of contamination in fewer than 40 percent of the reported cases.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has made several recommendations as a result of the study. It says the CDC should work closely with state and local health departments in an effort to standardize and maintain consistent reporting rates. It also recommends that Congress fund improvements to our national surveillance system. In the meantime, keep eating those fruits and vegetables, the Center says. Just be careful.

Celeriac? More like celeri-wack, if you catch our drift…