Study: Leafy Greens Responsible for 10% of Foodborne Illnesses

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Eating a salad full of fresh leafy greens is not only delicious but also beneficial for our health. However, there’s a reason to be a cautious consumer. A recent study from The Ohio State University highlights the frequency of foodborne illness caused by lettuces and other fresh greens. Researchers found that about 9% of all foodborne illnesses caused by germs can be linked to leafy greens.

Image credit: Tasting table

Contamination often happens because lettuces and other fresh leafy greens are grown close to the soil, which can harbor microbes from animal compost or contaminated water sources. For instance, a significant E. coli outbreak in 2018 was caused by feedlot runoff reaching an irrigation canal used to water romaine lettuce. Cross-contamination can also occur during packaging. In January 2024, BrightFarms voluntarily recalled packaged spinach and salad kits due to possible listeria contamination in their processing plant.

So, what should a salad lover do with this information? Don’t let this study deter you from enjoying the healthy salad greens and other leafy vegetables you love. While the researchers highlighted a source of foodborne illness, the study aimed to find new ways to estimate the impact of these outbreaks, not to scare consumers. The US Dietary Guidelines, which are due to be updated next year, still recommend filling half your plate with fresh fruits and vegetables, and this trend is expected to continue.

To make your salad safer at home, start by rinsing the exterior of lettuce under running water before cutting it up. This removes any contaminants. Then, wash the cut or torn pieces to get rid of any particles contamination. Growers are continually improving their safety protocols, so don’t avoid your greens—they’re a great source of nutrients when handled safely.

Re-reported from the article originally published in Tasting table.

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