Top 10 Riskiest Foods for Food-Borne Illness

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Today experts from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and the University of Minnesota School of Public Health participated in a panel discussion to report information from the new CSPI report “The FDA Top Ten: The Riskiest Foods Regulated By the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.” The report of top 10 riskiest foods details deadly outbreaks of food-borne illness stemming from contamination in FDA-regulated foods.

In July, the House of Representatives passed the food Safety Enhancement Act, which will give the FDA authority to require food processors to design and implement food safety plans. It will also set specific safety standards, and provide for more frequent inspections of high-risk facilities. Senate legislation, named S.510 – FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, is pending.

Many of the "FDA Top Ten Riskiest Foods" are very healthful and popular foods consumed in the United States. Together, these ten foods account for nearly 40 percent of all foodborne-illness outbreaks linked to FDA-regulated foods in the U.S.

The top-ranked food on the list is leafy greens which the CSPI has linked to 363 separate outbreaks involving over 13,000 reported cases of illness. Pathogens responsible for the outbreaks include E.Coli, Norovirus, and Salmonella. Leafy greens can initially become contaminated on the farm through contact with wild animals, manure, polluted water, or poor handling practices during harvest and processing.

Shell eggs are number two on the list, with 95% of illness being from the Salmonella bacteria. Most types of Salmonella live in the intestinal tracts of animals and are transmitted to humans when feces contaminate a food item. Nearly 50% of all outbreaks linked to eggs come from inadequate cooking processes and improper holding temperatures.

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Tuna and Oysters combined are linked to about 400 known outbreaks of food-borne illness. Toxins from spoiled fish can lead to Scombroid poisoning. Vibrio poisoning is the most common illness related to oyster consumption.

Rounding out the top 5 is a surprising food item – potatoes. Potatoes have been linked to 108 outbreaks since 1990. Potatoes are often cooked before consuming, so illnesses are likely related to cross-contamination from other food items. Shigella and Listeria monocytogenes are the primary bacteria responsible for illness.

Notably missing from the list were meat products such as beef, chicken and pork, and peanuts. The USDA, not the FDA, regulates the production of animal meat products outside of fish, so they were not included in the database for evaluation. Peanuts have been implicated in the most recent extensive food-borne illness outbreak, but over the twenty years of data used for the report, their occurrence did not qualify them for the FDA Top Ten list.

The Centers for Science in the Public Interest encourage consumers to prevent food-borne illnesses from occurring by using safe food practices, such as monitoring the temperatures of food (keep hot food hot and cold food cold), use good hygiene practices while preparing foods at home, and cook foods thoroughly before eating.

The full report can be found here.

The Make Our Food Safe Campaign is made up of American Public Health Association, Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of American, Consumers Union, Food & Water Watch, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Safe Tables Our Priority, and Trust for America’s Health.

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