Myth: Foodborne Bacteria are Unique to Animal Agriculture
According to the CDC, foodborne illness is actually more common in produce than in animal protein products. In a recent CDC report, researchers found that 46 percent of foodborne illnesses were linked to produce, most often leafy greens.1 We’ve seen several outbreaks in recent years related to spinach, cantaloupe, peppers and other produce. These outbreaks have involved many common pathogens we’re familiar with in the meat and poultry industry including E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella and Listeria.
Certainly foodborne illnesses are linked to meat and poultry products, but they’re not the only source or even the most common source. Foodborne illness is an issue across the food system that everyone is working to improve.
The CDC reports that the majority of illnesses in produce is due to norovirus, a common virus that can cause vomiting and diarrhea and is sometimes known as the “cruise ship virus.” Norovirus is more likely contracted through human contact with the foods. In fact, sick food handlers specifically caused 53 percent of the foodborne norovirus outbreaks by contaminating food and may have contributed to another 29 percent of the outbreaks. More than 80 percent of outbreaks involved food prepared in commercial settings, such as restaurants, delis or in catering businesses. In some of those other cases where we’ve seen Listeria in cantaloupe, for example, there were insanitary conditions in produce packing houses, according to the FDA.2
According to the most recent CDC data, meat and poultry are responsible for 22 percent of foodborne illnesses in the U.S., so that’s why it may seem like you hear more about meat and poultry in the news than other products. The meat and poultry industry has made significant advances in recent years in reducing foodborne pathogen rates. In fact, there have been no recalls of ready-to-eat meat and poultry due to a human infection with Listeria monocytogenes since 2003. Overall USDA data show that, pathogen rates are decreasing in meat and poultry products.3
The best weapon against foodborne illness is education and information. Nothing in life is risk free, but relative to other nations, North America enjoys a very safe food supply. To ensure that food is safe to eat when served, take some simple precautions to reduce risk.
- Wash produce thoroughly; wash your hands before and after handling food.
- Keep meat and poultry and ready-to eat foods like salads or cheeses separate in the kitchen and use different cutting boards when preparing them.
- Cook meat and poultry thoroughly to recommended temperatures and use a meat thermometer to verify doneness.
- Store your leftovers within a couple of hours