Produce primary source of US foodborne illness

The folks who grow lettuce and spinach in California would make a great comedy act: if only so many people didn’t get severely sick.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has confirmed what some of us have been saying for 15 years: fresh produce is the biggest source of lettuce.tomato.skullfoodborne illness in the U.S.

This isn’t surprising: produce is fresh, not cooked, so there is ample opportunity for cross-contamination and pathogen transfer, such as norovirus.

This is nothing new, and nothing to be scared of.

It means that food safety starts on the farm, and goes all the way through to the fork.

I don’t know what it is about moral outrage in the U.S. but it was rampant when we were there for the past two months and it seems like every group out there feels a higher duty to dictate to the masses.

So it was predictable when the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement  said with a straight face today, that produce food safety is a “shared responsibility” and that “we believe this program is the best model for producing safe food because it establishes a culture of food safety on the farm.”

No evidence was offered to substantiate such a claim; but they got all the groovy words in their PR.

For the number of outbreaks, for the number of severely ill and dead, for the decade of inaction, you don’t get to lecture Americans about how it’s a shared responsibility.

Take care of your own stuff, admit when California leafy greens are involved in outbreaks instead of stalling and obstructing, and if you’re program is so great, publish all test results and market food safety at retail.

Otherwise, save the morality lectures and go back to growing crops, making money, and try not to make people barf.

A table of leafy green outbreaks is available at

The abstract of the CDC report is below:

Each year, >9 million foodborne illnesses are estimated to be caused by major pathogens acquired in the United States. Preventing these illnesses is challenging because resources are limited and linking TheMasterOscarPageindividual illnesses to a particular food is rarely possible except during an outbreak. We developed a method of attributing illnesses to food commodities that uses data from outbreaks associated with both simple and complex foods. Using data from outbreak-associated illnesses for 1998–2008, we estimated annual US foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths attributable to each of 17 food commodities. We attributed 46% of illnesses to produce and found that more deaths were attributed to poultry than to any other commodity. 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. Methods to incorporate data from other sources are needed to improve attribution estimates for some commodities and agents.