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Leafy greens top source of food-borne illnesses, CDC says

January 29, 2013|By Betty Hallock
  • A CDC study says leafy greens accounted for the most food-borne illnesses from 1998 to 2008. But don't stop eating them!
A CDC study says leafy greens accounted for the most food-borne illnesses… (Paul Sakuma / Associated…)

Those leafy greens you're always trying to incorporate into your diet? A study released Tuesday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says leafy greens such as spinach, kale and lettuces were accountable for the most food-borne illnesses in the U.S. in the decade from 1998 to 2008. 

But don't give up those greens, experts say, noting that most are safe. Though more people may have gotten sick from plants, bad dairy caused the most hospitalizations and contaminated poultry led to the most deaths, the study said. A reminder: Wash or cook your food thoroughly.

The study covered 128,269 illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths caused by 4,887 food-borne outbreaks, many caused by norovirus. Leafy greens accounted for 23% of illnesses. But of hospitalizations, dairy products were responsible for 16%, leafy greens 14% and poultry 12%. Poultry accounted for 19% of deaths, and 10% were caused by dairy products. Many of the outbreaks were linked to unpasteurized dairy products, but most Americans drink and eat only pasteurized milk, cream and other dairy.

The CDC said the study is meant to help target efforts to improve food safety, not create a list of foods that carry risk of illness, according to a USA Today report. Keep eating your vegetables, said Patricia Griffin, senior author of the CDC study, which appeared in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. They're linked to lowering the risk of heart attacks, stroke and cancer.

The total number of deaths during the years that the study covered was small: 277 people died from illnesses linked to poultry and 140 from illnesses linked to dairy.

The study is expected to help focus regulations on the highest-risk food products now that the Food Safety Modernization Act is being implemented.

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