Are Vegetables Making You Sick? Here’s Your Excuse Not To Eat Your Greens

Vegetables can kill you. Seriously, there was a man who allegedly overdosed on Brussels sprouts. Now, a new government report shows that — while vegetables are good for you — they are also the largest source of food-borne contamination in the United States.

About 2.2 million people get sick annually from eating contaminated leafy greens, a figure that represents about 23 percent of the 9.6 million cases of food-related illnesses each year. Approximately 130,000 hospitalizations are food-related. The new study, released on Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows that produce — including vegetables, fruits, and nuts — sicken 4.4 million people a year. Only 2.1 million people a year are effected by illness caused by contaminated meats, such as beef, pork, or poultry.

However, it is worthy to note that the pathogens found on meat are generally more deadly that those found on vegetables. The study analyzed food-borne illness outbreaks for 11 years to calculate the annual rate.

Contaminated produce can be deadly, as noted by the listeria outbreak in which affected cantaloupes killed over 30 people in 2011. While most food-related illnesses are relatively minor and go unreported, the CDC study reied on scientific methods to extrapolate total illnesses from disease outbreaks that were reported and monitored, said Patricia Griffin, chief of the Enteric Diseases Epidemiology Branch at the CDC.

Griffin, one of the study’s authors, notes that contamination of produce can happen on farms and processing facilities. Bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli and listeria are often the cause of large food recalls.

Often, however, food contamination happens in the kitchen, whether at home or in restaurants. Griffin notes that illnesses can be greatly reduced if food preparers “take simple precautions such as washing their hands often and keeping raw meat separate from fruits and vegetables.” While raw meat is cooked before consumption, thereby killing any bacteria, people can get sick when vegetables are contaminated, then consumed raw.

The norovirus is the most common food contaminant that makes people sick, Griffin notes. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting and nausea. Its presence in food is most frequently due to preparers not washing their hands before cooking.

While contaminated poultry is particularly deadly, accounting for 19 percent of food-related deaths, vegetables are not as innocuous as people may think.

Precautions can still prevent the spread of food-related illnesses.

[Image via Shutterstock]