Sunday, 11 October 2009

Ten Common Food Poisoning Risks

Ten Common Food Poisoning Risks

Suzanne DeChillo, Chang W. Lee/The New York Times; Brendan Smialowski for The New York Times Will these foods make you sick? The Center for Science in the Public Interest has some answers.

Each year, about 76 million people in the United States become ill from the food they eat, and about 5,000 of them die, the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionreports.

Harmful bacteria are the most common cause of food-borne illnesses, with symptoms ranging from upset stomach to fever and severe vomiting. Food can become contaminated at any phase of the production and preparation process, from the farm to slaughterhouse to the grocery store or in the restaurant or home. This week, the New York Times reporter Michael Moss tracked the journey of contaminated beef during an E. coli outbreak and found that “eating ground beef is still a gamble.”

Beef and poultry are the most frequent sources of food-borne illness, but a number of other foods also pose a risk. Now, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group that tracks food safety issues, has compiled a list of 10 common foods responsible for a large number of outbreaks of food-borne illnesses. The top 10 foods account for 1,500 separate outbreaks accounting for about 50,000 cases of food poisoning, some of which ended in long-term disability and death. The list comes from the group’s database of outbreaks, compiled from state and federal government reports, scientific articles and news reports. The list only focuses on foods overseen by the Food and Drug Administration, so it doesn’t include meats, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“A globalized food system, archaic food safety laws, and the rise of large-scale production and processing have combined to create a perfect storm of unsafe food,’’ the C.S.P.I. writes. “Unfortunately, the hazards now come from all areas of the food supply: not only high-risk products, like meat and dairy, but also the must-eat components of a healthy diet, like fruits and vegetables.’’

Here are the top three riskiest foods on the C.S.P.I. list:

1. Leafy greens (363 outbreaks; 13,568 cases): Responsible for 24 percent of the non-meat outbreaks listed, salads and other greens become contaminated by contact with animals, contaminated water, poor handling practices and even contaminated washing equipment.

2. Eggs (352 outbreaks; 11,164 cases): Most egg outbreaks are because of salmonella poisoning. Although external contamination of the egg can occur from poor handling practices, more often the contamination happens inside the hen, before the shell is even formed. Half of all cases of egg-related illness are in restaurants. Catered events and prisons also reported large outbreaks.

3. Tuna (268 outbreaks; 2,341 cases): Fresh fish can decay soon after being caught, the C.S.P.I. reports, leading to scombroid poisoning caused by a poison called scombrotoxin. Symptoms include skin flushing, headaches, cramps, diarrhea and loss of vision.

The remaining foods on the C.S.P.I. list are:

4. Oysters: 132 outbreaks; 3,409 cases.
5. Potatoes: 108 outbreaks; 3,659 cases.
6. Cheese: 83 outbreaks; 2,761 cases.
7. Ice cream: 74 outbreaks; 2,594 cases.
8. Tomatoes: 31 outbreaks; 3,292 cases.
9. Sprouts: 31 outbreaks; 2,022 cases.
10. Berries: 25 outbreaks; 3,397 cases.

For more information, visit the Make Our Food Safe campaign, a Web site created by a coalition of consumer groups.

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