Salad greens make the most people sick, but contaminated poultry kills the most Americans, federal researchers report in the first comprehensive look at the foods that cause foodborne illnesses. And there are a few surprises -- the bug most likely to be lurking in a salad is norovirus, and it probably came from the hands of the person who made it.
This doesn’t mean salad is more dangerous, the team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stresses: It just shows what foods are most involved and may reflect how often people eat them.
“When the average American looks at this data, they need to know that we are not trying to make estimates of the risk of illness per serving of any of the food categories,” says the CDC’s Dr. Patricia Griffin, who heads the agency’s branch that investigates stomach bugs.
Contaminated meat and poultry accounted for 22 percent of illness but 29 percent of deaths, while dairy and eggs accounted for 20 percent of illnesses and 15 percent of deaths.
Last week, CDC reported 1,527 foodborne disease outbreaks in 2009 and 2010. They said 29,444 people got sick and 23 died in these outbreaks. Norovirus or Salmonella -- especially in eggs, sprouts, tomatoes and peppers -- caused most, while Campylobacter in unpasteurized dairy products, Salmonella in eggs, and E. coli 0157 in beef were also very common causes of food poisoning outbreaks. And nearly half -- 48 percent -- of all outbreaks from a single place were traced to restaurants or delis.
So besides cooking meat and making sure greens are washed well, how can people protect themselves? “I would advise people to avoid eating raw foods of animal origin, and that includes raw milk,” Griffin said. Shellfish? “You have to make a decision about raw shellfish and how much you love them, how much risk you want to take and what your risk might be,” she said.