Many Foodborne Illnesses Linked to Produce, Handling Problems

Article excerpt

PRODUCE IS the source of nearly half of all foodborne illnesses in the United States, and leafy green vegetables are a frequent culprit, according to a recent study identifying the main sources of outbreaks.

The study, published in the March issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, was based on a comprehensive set of estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention using data from more than a decade of foodborne disease outbreaks.

Researchers also analyzed previously published estimates on how many illnesses could be attributed to each food category.

During 1998-2008, about 13,500 reported foodborne disease outbreaks in the United States caused nearly 272,000 illnesses, according to the study. Researchers analyzed about 4,600 outbreaks and about 120,000 associated illnesses. They found 23 percent of illnesses were associated with leafy vegetables, which was higher than any other type of food.

While the study found 46 percent of foodborne illnesses were linked to produce, poultry was responsible for the most deaths, at 19 percent. Most poultry-associated deaths were caused by listeria or salmonella, and a majority of produce-related illnesses were linked to noroviruses. The study used data from illnesses that could be attributed to each of 17 food categories, or commodities, such as dairy, eggs, beef, fish, fruits-nuts, leafy vegetables and root vegetables.

"To the extent that these estimates reflect the commodities causing all foodborne illness, they indicate that efforts are particularly needed to prevent contamination of produce and poultry," the study's authors wrote. "Methods to incorporate data from other sources are needed to improve attribution estimates for some commodities and agents."

The study also found that dairy products were the second most common food source of infections causing illnesses and death. While pasteurization eliminates pathogens, "improper pasteurization and incidents of contamination after pasteurization occur," the authors wrote. "In our dataset, norovirus outbreaks associated with cheese illustrate the role of contamination of dairy products after pasteurization by food handlers. …