Lettuce and other leafy vegetables are good for, but they can also make you very, very sick.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that leafy greens are the largest source of food-borne poisoning in the U.S.
A study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 2.2 million people get sick annually from eating contaminated leafy vegetables. That represents about 23% of the cases of food-borne illness each year.
Produce foods, a category that includes vegetables, fruits and nuts, sicken 4.4 million people a year, according to the report. That’s a greater number than the illnesses caused by contaminated beef, pork, and poultry, but the pathogens found on meat are generally more deadly than those found on vegetables.
Contaminated poultry is particularly deadly, accounting for 19% of food-related deaths.
Contaminated produce can also be deadly. A listeria outbreak in cantaloupes killed 33 people in 2011.
Contamination on farms and in processing facilities from bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli and listeria are often behind the large food recalls, but often food contamination takes place in home and restaurant kitchens.
Illnesses can be greatly reduced, she said, if food preparers take simple precautions such as washing their hands often and keeping raw meat separate from fruits and vegetables. Cooking the meat properly kills any bacteria that may be on it, but if the germs were first spread to another food that isn't cooked, people can get sick.
By the way, the good news is that most food-related illnesses cause relatively minor discomfort and go unreported.
For more information on preparing food safely, visit the USDA’s website at USDA.gov.I’m Bill Maier for WBCL.