Although more people are eating fruits and vegetables, this healthy trend comes with a risk — illnesses traced to fresh produce are on the rise. Salmonella cases reported to the Lee County Health Department rose from 173 for all of 2004 to more than 230 so far this year. By far, those most affected are children 1 to 4 years of age.

Hamburger meat and chicken have become infamous as carriers of food-borne illnesses, but fruits and vegetables are now responsible for more large-scale outbreaks of food-borne illnesses than meat, poultry or eggs.

Why this increase in salmonella and other food-borne illnesses?

We import more, says Michael Barnaby, public information specialist for the Lee County Health Department. Although production in the United States always involves processed fertilizers, imported produce may be grown with raw or unprocessed fertilizers. We buy more pre-cut, packaged salads and their ingredients, and vegetables and fruits. Both fertilizer and unsanitary procedures by people become possible causes. We’ve increased distribution centralization. Meats may be shipped in the same carrier as veggies and fruits, or storage temperatures may be incorrect, increasing the risk to the food items.

What you can do to help prevent food-borne illness:

  • – Wash all fruits and vegetables before cooking or eating.
  • – Salmonella is killed by thorough cooking.
  • – Salmonella is best prevented by proper food handling and cooking, maintaining sanitary water supplies and good hand washing.
  • – Wash hands before preparing or serving foods. Have someone else prepare the food if you have cramps, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
  • – Teach your kids to wash their hands after using the toilet and before eating.