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How safe is your salad?

3 min read

Food Retail

A report out this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 1 in 5 foodborne illnesses comes from leafy greens and fully half of all 48 million annual food poisoning cases can be traced back to produce, according to multiple media outlets.

They came complete with requisite scary headlines, such as “Vegetables big culprit in food illness,” “CDC: Leafy greens most common culprit behind food poisoning” and “Leafy greens, dairy top foodborne illness causes at turn of the 21st century,” and I’m guessing you’ve not only read some of the stories but also heard about them from your restaurants’ patrons.

At first glance, it’s enough to scare any of us away from the salad bar. But not so fast — the agency isn’t telling us to quit eating our veggies, but it is reminding us to take precautions to avoid getting sick, writes ConsumerAffairs‘ Mark Huffman. While the produce is the vehicle for transmitting the pathogens, many of the illnesses that comes from the salad bowl are the result of contamination from cooks not taking proper precautions when preparing the food, the CDC report says.

Additionally, while plants were responsible for the most foodborne illnesses cases between 1998 and 2008, the largest number of deaths due to foodborne pathogens were attributed to poultry.

The report by no means advocates cutting out vegetables from your plate — in fact, the USDA recommends consumers fill half their plates with produce at every meal.

“The vast majority of meals are safe,” CDC foodborne disease expert Patricia Griffin told USA Today. “Eating them is so important to a healthy diet. They’re linked to reduced risk of heart attacks, stroke and cancer.”

And another federal agency is making moves to make filling your plate according to MyPlate even safer.

This month, the FDA proposed a set of rules for produce safety that includes hygiene standards for farm workers and best practices for limiting crops’ exposure to animal waste and dirty water. There’s a catch, though. Farmers who average less than $500,000 in annual food sales are exempt, which means much of the produce we buy at farmers markets won’t be subject to the stricter safety rules, Food Safety News reported.

The FDA recognizes that produce grown outdoors can be contaminated in several ways, including polluted water, animal feces and contact with the soil; additionally, produce that’s eaten raw isn’t exposed to the same high temperatures that kills off the same harmful pathogens in cooked food, according Food Safety News.

Has the new report led to questions by your customers? How do you reassure your guests about food safety? Tell us in the comments.