According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, food-borne illness kills at least 3,000 Americans and makes 9.6 million of us sick every year. If you are, indeed, what you eat, what you eat can kill you. Oddly, the most common culprit of food-borne disease isn’t meat, seafood or poultry. It’s leafy veggies.
Yup, spinach, lettuce and other green leafy veggies are responsible for 23 percent of all food-borne diseases in the U.S. I knew I was avoiding kale for a reason. The percentage translates into 2.2 million sick people annually, more than the 2.1 million left ill by contaminated pork, meat and dairy products.
Does this mean you have an excuse to skip the salad (or in my case, the kale)? Only if you want to avoid the steak as well. While both food groups make people sick, illness caused by contaminated meat is generally more severe than that caused by leafy produce. Poultry is especially bad, accounting for 19 percent of all food-related deaths in the country.
Well, that depends on the nature of the contaminant. Recalls of salmonella-, listeria- and E coli-contaminated vegetables make the news the most, and such contamination usually occurs on farms or in processing plants. Any of these diseases can kill: In 2011 listeria-contaminated cantaloupes killed 33 people.
By far the most common disease-contaminating leafy vegetables and other produce is nanovirus, also known as the stomach flu. The nanovirus causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, and a new strain of the disease is currently active in the States. All told, about ten million Americans suffer through a bout of nanovirus every year, with all the discomfort that entails.
While farms, processing plants and restaurants can expose you to disease;home kitchens are perhaps the most common cause of contaminated food. Of course, you can’t forgo home cooking in favor of daily restaurant online ordering (well, I suppose you could, but eating out every day’s beyond most people’s financial means), so you still have to cook. So how do you keep contaminants out of the kitchen and your food?
Using the same knife or cutting board to handle meat and vegetables can spread bacteria from meat to veggies. Cooking may kill disease in the meat, but you can still get sick from the vegetables. Use separate cutting boards or food preparation areas for vegetables and meat.
By far the most common cause of food contamination in kitchens, however, is infrequent hand washing. Some rehab facilities in Florida have actually been cited for violating these common mistakes. Nanovirus and other diseases spread easily from contaminated hands to dishes, utensils and food. Even with frequent hand-washing, anyone suffering from diarrhea should avoid preparing food.
A little preparation and conscientious hand-washing greatly reduce your risk of food-borne disease. After all, we’re supposed to enjoy food, not fear it.
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