Most people properly associate Salmonella with raw poultry. But according to an analysis of food-poisoning outbreaks by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), fresh produce is catching up with chicken as a major culprit of Salmonella infections. And, says CSPI, produce-related outbreaks tend to be larger than poultry-related outbreaks, and sicken more people, sometimes hundreds at a time.
Although poultry has historically been responsible for far more Salmonella infections, in the most recent years in CSPI’s database, produce seems to be catching up. In recent years, Salmonella outbreaks have been traced back to lettuce, salads, melons, sprouts, tomatoes, and other fruit- and vegetable-containing dishes.
From 1990 to 2001 poultry accounted for 121 Salmonella outbreaks and produce accounted for 80. But in 2002-2003, produce accounted for 31 Salmonella outbreaks and poultry accounted for 29. In 2004, there were three separate outbreaks involving 561 Salmonella infections that were linked to contaminated Roma tomatoes. From 2000 to 2002, Salmonella-contaminated cantaloupe imported from Mexico sickened 155 and killed two.
Salmonella isn’t the only pathogen that ends up on produce. In 2003, green onions in salsa from a Pennsylvania ChiChi’s restaurant transmitted hepatitis A to 555 people, killing three. Also that year, E. coli on a bagged salad mix sickened more than 50 restaurant patrons in the San Diego area.