Special Report: Veggies Can Make You Sick

Many thanks to Jen Gray for her inspiring photo ...

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal included this eye-grabbing headline: "When Eating Your Vegetables Makes You Sick".

Vegetables? Make us sick? Oh great, just what maligned-broccoli needs!

But it's serious business. (Hmmm. Or is it? Keep reading.) Here's a summary of the story:
  • The good news is that Americans (sorry, rest of the world, no data cited ..) are eating more fruits and vegetables
    • In 1990, per capita consumption was 287 pounds per year, about 3/4 a pound a day
    • In 2003, it increased by 15+ percent to 332 pounds per year, about nine-tenths of a pound a day

  • The bad news is that fruits and vegetables are now responsible for more large-scale outbreaks of food-borne illnesses than meat, poultry or eggs due, it's said, to:
    • Centralization of produce distribution
    • Increased reliance on imports
    • Growing popularity of 'convenience' produce (think bags of spinach, pre-cut coleslaw, cantaloupe halves)
  • Examples cited included
    • E. coli infections from Dole pre-cut salads
    • Hepatitis A infections from Mexican onions
    • Salmonella from fresh tomatoes
  • Five items are especially problematic
    • Tomatoes (since salmonella can enter the tissue via the stem and skin cracks so washing doesn't help much)
    • Melons but especially cantaloupe (since bacteria from rainwater, birds sitting on them, etc can enter through cracks and crevices in the rind)
    • Lettuce
    • Sprouts
    • Green onions
  • Putting it all in perspective (disclaimer, this is my own AK angle and not included in the Wall Street story)
    • The study period reported 554 food-borne illness outbreaks affecting 28,000 people -- over 14 years
    • That's 40 outbreaks a year, affecting about 2000 people a year
    • That said, it does appear that produce-related instances are up almost 43% when consumption is up only the previously cited 15%
  • That said, what it's suggested we consumers can do to protect themselves (the AK view of these suggestions is that they are nothing new but good reminder precautions )
    • Separate fruits and vegetables from meat items right at the grocery -- in the cart, the checkout, the bags (now if only my local Schnucks grocery practiced this, just last night the pork tenderloin was bagged with some fresh apples)
    • Refrigerate cut, peeled or cooked fresh fruits or vegetables within two hours
    • Wash cutting boards, knives, peelers and other tools along with work surface before and After (AK: why before if done after the prior use?) with hot water and soap
    • Don't use the same cutting board for fruits/vegetables and meat without washing with hot water and soap in between (this is why I have, and regularly use, four cutting boards)
    • Cook or throw away fruits or vegetables that have touched raw meat, poultry, seafood or their juices
    • Remove bruised or damaged portions of fruits and vegetables before cooking and especially before eating raw
Source: Wall Street Journal, November 30, 2005,
"When Eating Vegetables Can Make You Sick" by Jane Zhang


This is an important issue, I'm glad you brought it up!

Ontario just destroyed its entire crop of bean sprouts because of salmonella. It was weird eating pad thai in a restaurant with no sprouts.

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