“We use these types of reports as a tool to help identify research that needs to be done,” she said. “We are issuing our annual call for research proposals Friday (Feb. 1) so this timing works well.”
The CDC researchers estimate 9.6 million annual illnesses related to foods. For analysis purposes, they split produce into subgroups of:
- leafy vegetables;
- root vegetables;
- sprouts; and
- vine-stalk vegetables (tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.)
The data shows leafy vegetables were associated with more illnesses than any other single commodity with 2.1 million cases estimated annually. That represents 23% of the annual foodborne illnesses the CDC estimates are caused by food.
Means pointed to the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement as an example of how that segment of the industry has aggressively addressed food safety. She also cited the Produce Traceability Initiative as another move by industry to enhance food safety.
Chief executive officer of the LGMA Scott Horsfall posted a statement on the organization’s website in response to the CDC’s report. He said that 99% of leafy greens grown in California are covered by the agreement and that many foodborne illness outbreaks come from contamination introduced after fresh produce has left the farm.
“According to this report, Norovirus is responsible for 57% of foodborne illness cases; this particular pathogen is almost always spread via food handling after the produce leaves the farm,” Horsfall’s statement says.
After leafy vegetables, the commodities linked to the most illnesses were dairy with an estimated 1.3 million illnesses representing 14% of the total, and fruits/nuts with 1.2 million illnesses representing 12% of the total.
The CDC researchers concluded that an estimated 629 food-related deaths annually, or 43%, are linked to land animals. All plants, which includes the produce subgroups and grains, beans, sugars and oils, accounted for 363 deaths, or 25%. About 94 deaths, or 6%, were linked to aquatic commodities.
Meat-poultry commodities accounted for 29% of deaths and produce accounted for 23%, the CDC reported. Poultry accounted for the most deaths at 19%, followed by dairy at 10%, vine-stalk vegetables at 7%, fruits/nuts at 6%, and leafy vegetables at 6%.