Deviled Eggs? Eggs, greens among riskiest foods overseen by FDA

Think you're safe eating foods regulated by the Food and Drug Administration? Think again, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a non-profit health advocacy group.

What many consumers consider healthy foods -- including eggs and leafy greens -- are implicated in 40% of food-related outbreaks linked to FDA-regulated food, the Washington, D.C.-based CSPI says in a new study.

The watchdog group, which based its findings on outbreak data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 1990 to 2006, says the list of the 10 foods should sound an alarm to consumers and legislators because of the presence of so many healthy foods, ranging from tomatoes to sprouts.

"Many of the foods that made the list are a part of a healthy and balanced diet," said CSPI staff attorney Sarah Klein on a conference call to discuss the findings. "Leafy greens are unfortunately no stranger to food-borne illness. The most common path are Norovirus, E. coli and Salmonella."

The report from the CSPI, known for bringing the public's attention to food issues such as the health dangers of trans fats, comes days after the New York Times highlighted the dangers of hamburger meat and the flaws in beef inspection. Some readers decided to swear off hamburgers for good after seeing the piece, writes WalletPop sister publication Daily Finance.

More than 1,500 separate outbreaks were linked to the foods on the CSPI's list, which has led to almost 50,000 reported illnesses. The top 10 riskiest foods regulated by the FDA are, in order of the most outbreaks:
  • leafy greens
  • eggs
  • tuna
  • oysters
  • potatoes
  • cheese
  • ice cream
  • tomatoes
  • sprouts
  • berries

The report doesn't differentiate between organic and non-organic foods, although the CSPI believes the risks are fairly similar, said Caroline Smith DeWaal, the director of the group's food safety program, on the call. It also didn't include meat, because the FDA doesn't regulate the meat industry, she said.

So what should consumers do? Proper food handling and safety measures are important in home kitchens, ranging from cooking eggs thoroughly to taking care potatoes aren't contaminated by other food. Because potatoes are always cooked, which would eliminate any pathogen, the reason why potatoes are linked to food-borne illnesses is likely from cross-contamination, DeWaal said.

And the report underscores the need for the passage of the Food Safety Enhancement Act, the CSPI said. The Senate should take the lead of the House and pass the legislation, which would give the FDA authority to require food processors to implement food safety plans and increase frequency of inspections.

Despite the call for change, food system in the U.S. remains relatively safe, said Dr. Craig Hedberg, a professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, on the call. Still, food-borne illness is "a major health concern," he added.
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