Leafy greens cause most foodborne illnesses in U.S.

January 29, 2013

A report published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that leafy green vegetables are responsible for more foodborne illnesses than any other food. However, meat and poultry cause more deaths.

Almost half (46%) of illnesses were traced back to produce, including fruits and nuts. Twenty-two percent were due to consuming leafy vegetables such as kale or spinach. Dairy products were responsible for 14% of illnesses, fruits and nuts for 12%, and poultry for 10%.

Meat—particularly poultry—was responsible for the most deaths, with 43% of all deaths estimated to have come from land animals. Nineteen percent of deaths were due to poultry alone and mostly from Listeria or Salmonella.

Two years ago, the CDC published estimates on the number of foodborne illnesses acquired in the United States, including the number caused by each of the major pathogens. According to that report, about 48 million people—or one in six in the United States each year—get food poisoning. More than 9 million of those cases are caused by one of the major pathogens tracked by the CDC.

This is the first time the CDC has tried to evaluate the actual food sources of foodborne illnesses. The analysis is based on data from all outbreaks since 1998, the first year authorities started filing information on ingredients.