Salad with a side of danger

<cross-posted on dscriber.com>

Neither blowfish nor butter are as dangerous to your health as your salad Nicoise, according to a new report authored by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Health foods like leafy greens, eggs and tuna top the list of the 10 riskiest foods regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

So does that mean we can ditch health food and start feeling good about ground beef? Probably not. But you should take extra caution when washing your produce, which, along with eggs and fish, are responsible for about 40 percent of all food-borne disease outbreaks, the CSPI says in a new study announced Tuesday.

“Outbreaks give the best evidence of where and when the food safety system is failing to protect the public,” said CSPI staff attorney Sarah Klein, the lead author of the report.

The study does not include beef, pork or poultry, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and which present plenty of peril on their own. But the FDA regulates 80 percent of the food supply, including produce, seafood, dairy products and most packaged goods like peanut butter.


CSPI said it wanted to examine FDA-regulated foods because of a bill in Congress that would tighten the FDA’s requirements.

Outbreaks of salmonella and e. coli in packaged peanut butter and leafy greens like spinach alarmed consumers in the past two years, and provided an impetus for a food safety bill that already passed the House of Representatives. But the Food Safety Enhancement Act is lingering in the Senate, CSPI said.

Erik Olson, director of food and consumer product safety for the Pew Health Group, said in a press conference call the law would require safety plans for all food producers, which will be subject to inspection; it would increase inspection frequency; and provide the FDA with stricter authority, among other provisions.

Klein said additional FDA power is needed because tuna and oysters, which are also on the list, are already regulated, but still caused a combined 403 outbreaks and 5,750 cases of illness from 1990 to 2006.

“These mandatory plans don’t work unless they are adequately enforced by FDA,” she said.

Here’s the full list:

Leafy greens

Eggs

Tuna

Oysters

Potatoes

Cheese

Ice cream

Tomatoes

Sprouts

Berries

Potatoes and ice cream make the list because of other ingredients, noted Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of the Food Safety Program at CSPI. Cooked potatoes aren’t risky by themselves, but when mixed with eggs for potato salad, they can spread salmonella. She also recommended consumers not use raw eggs when making homemade ice cream.

So, what’s a health-conscious consumer to do, especially the ones who permanently swore off eating ground beef after reading Sunday’s New York Times?

Dr. Craig Hedberg, professor of environmental health at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, said consumers should just be aware. The study found one food-related illness for roughly every 3,000 to 4,000 meals eaten, so it’s not that bad.

So, go ahead and have that salad Nicoise — just make sure you washed the lettuce and thoroughly cooked the eggs. It’s probably safer than a cheeseburger.

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