Ready-to-eat salads, new pathogens fuel rise in contaminated produce

Kevin Allen is still a goon – at least on ice.

He’s apparently a nice guy, loving father and snappy dresser when not bashing pucks off my goaltender’s head. He also plays academic sometimes.

University of British Columbia food scientist Kevin Allen told the Vancouver Sun this morning,

"If we look at the past decade, we can see a change in the epidemiology of food-borne disease, more specifically within the category of ready-to-eat foods. Part of the problem is that ready-to-eat foods are supposed to be ready to eat, so unlike poultry and your beef and your eggs, with salads and sprouts there is no cooking and so no pathogen-killing step. … Organisms like E. coli and salmonella that used to be associated solely with poultry and beef are now almost as frequently associated with leafy green vegetables. That is a tremendous shift from 20 years ago."

Christina Hilliard, a fresh fruit and produce specialist with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said,

"Twenty-five years ago we weren’t even thinking about lettuce in terms of food safety, even five years ago we didn’t think that someone could die from eating spinach.”

Allen’s research at UBC is dedicated to minimizing the presence of E. coli in cattle with an eye to stopping the pathogen’s spread through the food chain.