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Poultry, leafy greens are big offenders in food-borne illnesses: report

The latest report from the CDC looks at 10 years of data and finds poultry and leafy greens are more often connected to deaths and food-borne illnesses


Atlanta, Ga. – A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that poultry and leafy greens are the top sources of food-borne illnesses.

The CDC specifically found that contaminated chicken and poultry were linked to the most food-related deaths. While leafy green vegetables such as lettuce, spinach and kale were linked to most cases of food poisoning.

The report is called Attribution of Foodborne Illnesses, Hospitalizations, and Deaths to Food Commodities by Using Outbreak Data, United States, 1998-2008.

The paper focused on known causes of illness and used data from nearly 4,600 outbreaks to estimate the number of illnesses that can be attributed to each of 17 food categories (which are called commodities in the paper).

It also took into account estimates of food-borne illness published in a 2011 paper that found about 48 million people or one in six Americans get sick each year from food.

More than nine million of those illnesses are caused by major pathogens the CDC tracks.

Setting priorities

The paper also provides a foundation for priority setting for food safety interventions, policy development, research and analyses for the CDC and its regulatory partners.

The USAToday.com reports that the study isn’t mean to be a “risk of illness per serving” list for consumers. The findings are meant to help regulators and the food industry target efforts to improve the safety of food.

In fact, says the CDC, leafy greens are key for a healthy diet and are linked to reduced risk of heart attacks, stroke and cancer, reports USAToday.com.

From the study

Some highlights from the study include:

Leafy greens
• More illnesses were attributed to leafy vegetables (22%) than to any other commodity.
• Illnesses associated with leafy vegetables were the second most frequent cause of hospitalizations (14%) and the fifth most frequent cause of death (6%).
• Previous studies have shown that produce-containing foods were the food source for approximately half of norovirus outbreaks with an identified simple food vehicle during 2001–2008 and the second most frequent food source for E. coli O157 outbreaks during 1982–2002.
• Outbreaks of E. coli O157 infections transmitted by spinach and lettuce and Salmonella spp. infections transmitted by tomatoes, juice, mangoes, sprouts, and peppers underline concerns about contamination of produce consumed raw.

Poultry

• More deaths were attributed to poultry (19%) than to any other commodity, and most poultry-associated deaths were caused by Listeria or Salmonella spp.
• From 1998 through 2002, three large listeriosis outbreaks were linked to turkey delicatessen meat contaminated in the processing plant after cooking.
• A risk-ranking model for listeriosis among ready-to-eat foods identified delicatessen meat as the highest risk food.

Dairy
• The dairy commodity was the second most frequent food source for infections causing illnesses (14%) and deaths (10%).
• Foods in this commodity are typically consumed after pasteurization, which eliminates pathogens, but improper pasteurization and incidents of contamination after pasteurization occur.
• In the CDC’s dataset, norovirus outbreaks associated with cheese illustrate the role of contamination of dairy products after pasteurization by food handlers. Because of the large volume of dairy products consumed, even infrequent contamination of commercially distributed products can result in many illnesses.
• The prominence of dairy in the CDC’s model reflects a relatively high number of reported outbreaks associated with raw milk compared with the quantity of raw milk consumed and issues related to Campylobacter spp. Infection; these factors likely resulted in an overestimation of illnesses attributed to dairy.
• Models that partition raw versus pasteurized milk and that incorporate other data sources for Campylobacter spp. infection could improve estimates of illnesses related to dairy.