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The Wall Street Journal reports on the next potential food safety problem – fresh produce, which now is “responsible for more large-scale outbreaks of food-borne illnesses than meat, poultry or eggs.

“Overall,” the WSJ writes, “produce accounts for 12% of food borne illnesses and 6% of the outbreaks, up from 1% of the illnesses and 0.7% of outbreaks in the 1970s, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, meat-related E. coli infections have been on the decline.

“Several factors are responsible: the centralization of produce distribution, a rise in produce imports, as well as the growing popularity of pre-chopped fruits and vegetables. Both the government and the industry have identified five products that are particularly problematic: tomatoes, melons (especially cantaloupes), lettuce, sprouts and green onions.”

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is ramping up efforts to get US produce suppliers to clean up their acts and be more vigilant about preventing food borne illnesses – though in some ways, it has been difficult to ascertain exactly why and how fresh produce gets tainted. And, FDA is increasing its oversight of imported produce.

But the big thing, according to the WSJ, that officials stress is “the importance of washing. A survey published in the Journal of Food Protection in 2002 found that 6% of consumers seldom or never wash fresh produce, more than 35% don't bother to wash melons, and nearly half don't wash their hands before handling fresh produce. The study estimated that each year 65 million to 81 million Americans become sick from eating food prepared at home.”
KC's View:
Consumer, health thyself. Use soap. And hot water.