NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 6, 2005

Fresh produce is increasingly becoming a host for bacteria, resulting in an increase in food-borne illnesses, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Rising produce imports, more centralized produce distribution and the greater popularity of produce consumption all have contributed to an increase in illnesses traced to fresh produce. In fact, fruits and vegetables cause more food-borne illnesses than meat, poultry or eggs.

  • Produce accounts for 12 percent of all food-borne illnesses, up from one percent in the 1970s; tomatoes, melons, lettuce, sprouts and green onions are the most problematic produce.
  • Produce is also responsible for 6 percent of food-borne illness outbreaks, up from 0.7 percent in the 1970s.
  • Between 1990 and 2003, 554 produce-related outbreaks infected 28,315 people, with vegetables accounting for 205 outbreaks with 10,358 illnesses and fruits accounting for 93 outbreaks with 7,799 illnesses.

Moreover, consumers can no longer assume that purchasing pre-cut, packaged salads or buying fruits and vegetables with protective skins will prevent food-borne illness. Bacteria can easily penetrate broken skins, and pre-cut, packaged salads can still harbor bacteria.

Consumers should thoroughly wash all produce regardless of its package, cut or throw away vegetables that are bruised or have broken peels, and avoid using the same cutting board for both meat and produce.

Source: Jane Zhang, "When Eating Your Vegetables Makes You Sick," Wall Street Journal, November 30, 2005.

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