Salad

One in 5 foodborne illnesses in the U.S. can be linked to a leafy green vegetable—more than any other food source—according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The most comprehensive report on foodborne illnesses and contamination the CDC has ever produced, the researchers looked at data on food poisoning outbreaks from the years between 1998 and 2008 to help expand its ability to monitor and prevent illnesses in the future.

While more deaths can be connected to foodborne bacteria such as E. coli, listeria and salmonella found in poultry, the CDC’s latest research says greens such as lettuce, kale and spinach top the list as the leading sources of food poisoning, and produce, including all other fruits and vegetables, contributed to nearly half of all food poisoning cases. But there’s still a connection to animals for those contaminated fruits and vegetables: Contaminated produce is typically infected by factory farm run-off—be it from cattle, pigs or chickens. And leafy green vegetables are particularly vulnerable to contamination from

Contaminated food sickens nearly 50 million Americans every year—roughly 1 out of every 6 people, and nearly 3,000 die as a result. And the CDC says its findings should not discourage consumption of fruits and vegetables, but consumers should take extra care to wash produce thoroughly says one of the study authors, Dr. Patricia Griffin.

The FDA, which was indirectly targeted in the report for its food safety inspections, recently proposed a new rules for produce safety which could help to mitigate the issues by better managing animal waste water and food handler hygiene.

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