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CDC: Produce Biggest Culprit in Foodborne Illnesses

ATLANTA — Illnesses linked to produce account for the highest number of foodborne illnesses and hospitalizations, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

By examining outbreaks from 1998-2008, the CDC found 46% of foodborne illnesses and 38% of hospitalizations could be traced back to produce commodities, which include fruits and nuts, leafy greens, fungi, root vegetables, sprouts and vine and stalk vegetables. 

Among all commodities, leafy greens caused the highest percentage of illnesses (23%) and second-highest percentage of hospitalizations (14%), although only 6% of deaths.

The Produce Marketing Association responded to the study with a statement emphasizing the industry's commitment to food safety. 

“PMA considers the CDC report as an opportunity to identify new targeted research and learning to make our industry and the resources PMA creates more effective. That approach to continuous learning about food safety is part of PMA’s commitment to protect consumers and the industry alike,” said Bryan Silbermann, PMA president and chief executive officer. 

The CDC found dairy accounted for the most hospitalizations, at 16%. However, researchers noted that a disproportionate number of outbreaks were linked to raw milk compared to the amount consumed, which could lead to an overestimation of the number of dairy-related illnesses.

Read more: Salmonella Outbreak Leads to Ground Beef Recall

Poultry-linked illnesses caused the most deaths (19%), mostly from Listeria or salmonella. The study cited three major outbreaks from 1998-2002 linked to turkey deli meat that had been contaminated in the processing plant after cooking.

Previous CDC estimates have found foodborne illnesses affect one in six Americans each year, resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. 

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