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January 29, 2013

Study says leafy greens top food poisoning source

NEW YORK — A big government study has fingered leafy greens like lettuce and spinach as the leading source of food poisoning, a perhaps uncomfortable conclusion for health officials who want us to eat our vegetables.

"Most meals are safe," said Dr. Patricia Griffin, a government researcher and one of the study's authors who said the finding shouldn't discourage people from eating produce. Experts repeated often-heard advice: Be sure to wash those foods or cook them thoroughly.

While more people may have gotten sick from plants, more died from contaminated poultry, the study also found. The results were released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans — or 48 million people— gets sick from food poisoning. That includes 128,000 hospitalization and 3,000 deaths, according to previous CDC estimates.

The new report is the most comprehensive CDC has produced on the sources of food poisoning, covering the years 1998 through 2008. It reflects the agency's growing sophistication at monitoring illnesses and finding their source.

What jumped out at the researchers was the role fruits and vegetables played in food poisonings, said Griffin, who heads the CDC office that handles foodborne infection surveillance and analysis.

About 1 in 5 illnesses were linked to leafy green vegetables — more than any other type of food. And nearly half of all food poisonings were attributed to produce in general, when illnesses from other fruits and vegetables were added in.

It's been kind of a tough month for vegetables. A controversy erupted when Taco Bell started airing a TV ad for its variety 12-pack of tacos, with a voiceover saying that bringing a vegetable tray to a football party is "like punting on fourth-and-1." It said that people secretly hate guests who bring vegetables to parties.

The fast-food chain on Monday announced it was pulling the commercial after receiving complaints that it discouraged people from eating vegetables.

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