I once heard that Adam's first words to Eve were "What's for dinner?" We all know we should eat healthy foods in moderation. The recent IHRSA/ASD Obesity/Weight Control Report found: "Obesity in proliferating in the United States: 3.8 million people are over 300 pounds, over 400,000 people (mostly males) carry over 400 pounds and the average adult female weighs an unprecedented 163 pounds!" Obesity in the United States has reached an unprecedented 31%, and the U.S. Surgeon General report declared that obesity is responsible for 300,000 deaths every year.
Yet, some supposedly healthy foods do pose other health risks. Recent scares from salmonella in peanut butter and mercury in high fructose corn syrup have alarmed many. New statistics show that many very popular foods do hold the potential to cause illnesses. What's a person to do to avoid potential danger? The answer might lie in the following statement: Not only eat healthy and in moderation but also eat wisely while avoiding risky foods.
While high profile cases of illness are often linked to meat and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consistently report that meat is the number one cause of foodborne illness, they are not the only foods to be wary of. In total, 76 million people in the United States get sick and 5,000 people die each year from food-related illnesses.(Radha Chitale, ABC News Medical Unit, October 6 2009)
According to HealthDay News (October 6, 2009), a report released Tuesday by a public advocacy group says that leafy greens head a list of the top 10 riskiest foods regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The 10 types of foods included in the list account for nearly 40 percent of all foodborne illness outbreaks linked to FDA-regulated foods since 1990, according to the report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
The report, based on U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, says the top 10 riskiest foods regulated by the FDA are:
- Leafy greens: 363 outbreaks involving 13,568 reported cases of illness. A pathogen appearing frequently in leafy greens is norovirus, which was linked to 64 percent of the outbreaks in leafy greens. Salmonella was responsible for another 10 percent. Contamination may be present from production and processing or through improper handling, such as inadequate handwashing.
- Eggs: 352 outbreaks with 11,163 reported cases of illness. The majority of illnesses from eggs are associated with salmonella that lives in the intestinal tracts of animals and birds and is transmitted to humans when animal feces contaminate a food item of animal origin (such as eggs). Regulations implemented in the 1970s have reduced salmonellosis infections. However, salmonella enteritidis, the most prevalent type of salmonella in eggs today, infects the ovaries of otherwise healthy hens and contaminates the eggs before the shells are formed. New regulations issued in July 2009 require the adoption of controls aimed at minimizing salmonella enteriditis in egg production.
- Tuna: 268 outbreaks with 2,341 reported cases of illness. People have been warned about methylmercury. Tuna has been linked to scombroid, the illness caused by scombrotoxin. Fresh fish decay quickly after being caught and, if stored improperly, begin to release natural toxins that are dangerous for humans.
- Oysters: 132 outbreaks with 3,409 reported cases of illness. Illnesses result primarily from two sources: norovirus and vibrio. Although norovirus in other foods is usually associated with improper handling, oysters actually can be harvested from waters contaminated with norovirus. When served raw or undercooked, those oysters can cause gastroenteritis Vibrio, a type of bacterium in the same family as cholera, can cause a severe illness, particularly in those with a compromised immune system
- Potatoes: 108 outbreaks with 3,659 reported cases of illness.The illness is often in the form of potato salad. Salmonella is the most common pathogen, associated with nearly 30 percent of outbreaks, followed by E. coli at 6 percent. The presence of salmonella and E. coli in potato dishes could indicate cross-contamination from raw or cooked ingredients or possibly from raw meat or poultry during handling and preparation. Shigella and listeria also appear in outbreaks associated with potatoes. More than 40 percent of potato outbreaks were linked to foods prepared in restaurants and food establishments (including grocery stores and delis).
- Cheese: 83 outbreaks with 2,761 reported cases of illness. Cheese can become contaminated with pathogens during production or processing. Most cheeses are now made with pasteurized milk, lowering the risk of contamination Pregnant women should be particularly cautious about consumption of soft cheeses such as feta, brie, camembert, blue-veined and Mexican-style cheese, which can carry listeria. Listeriosis infection can lead to miscarriage.
- Ice Cream: 74 outbreaks with 2,594 reported cases of illness. Most illness is from pathogens such as salmonella and staphylcoccus since 1990. Soft ice cream can be particularly hazardous to pregnant women. Listeria can survive on metal surfaces — such as the interior of soft ice cream machines — and may contaminate batch after batch of products.
- Tomatoes: 31 outbreaks with 3,292 reported cases of illness. A common hazard associated with tomatoes is salmonella, which accounted for more than half of the reported outbreaks. Salmonella can enter tomato plants through the roots or flowers and can enter the tomato fruit through small cracks in the skin, the stem scar or the plant itself. Restaurants were responsible for 70 percent of all illnesses associated with tomatoes.
- Sprouts: 31 outbreaks with 2,022 reported cases of illness. The CDC and the FDA recommended in 1999 that people at high risk for complications from salmonella and E. coli — such as the elderly, young children, and those with compromised immune systems — not eat raw sprouts. The most likely source of sprout contamination is the seeds that are used to grow the sprouts. Seeds may become contaminated in the field or during storage, and the warm and humid conditions required to grow sprouts are ideal for the rapid growth of bacteria.
- Berries: 25 outbreaks with 3,397 reported cases of illness. In the school outbreak of 1007, Hepatitis A was the culprit, and contamination may have occurred through an infected farm worker, according to the CSPI report. That same year, raspberries imported from Guatemala and Chile were implicated in a cyclospora outbreak across five states. The resulting infection is a parasitic illness of the intestines, which can cause severe diarrhea, dehydration and stomach cramps and requires treatment with antibiotics.
Food producers, including the Western Growers Association, released statements criticizing the report. "Farmers are consumers, too," the association said, in a release from spokesman Paul Simonds. "They eat the fresh produce they grow as do the members of their families, and have invested millions of dollars enhancing food safety practices in the last few years. Scaring people away from eating some of the healthiest foods on the planet, like fresh produce, does not serve consumers." (Aaron Smith, CNNMoney.com staff writer, October 6 2009)
CNNMoney also reported that the National Milk Producers Federation released a statement criticizing the report as "based on outdated information."
Rich Ruais, executive director of the Blue Water Fisherman Association and the American Blue Fin Tuna Association in Salem, N.H., disagreed with the study's "bad rap" on tuna. "Tuna? I beg to differ," he said. "Tuna is one of the healthiest foods on the Earth. It's life sustaining; it's life prolonging."
As an eater and a consumer, I wonder about the new information. Berries, tomatoes and ice cream gone? I guess the safest alternative would be to quit eating. But then again... I'm getting hungry.