Is salad really more dangerous than beefburgers?

bagged-lettuce-recall“Salad is more dangerous than beefburgers” claims a headline in yesterday’s Telegraph newspaper in London.


The facts are that earlier this week the Health Protection Agency confirmed that an investigation into an outbreak of Cryptosporidium infection that affected around 300 people in England and Scotland in May 2012 showed strong evidence of an association with eating pre-cut bagged salad products which are likely to have been labelled as ‘ready-to-eat’. The outbreak was short lived and the numbers of cases returned to expected seasonal levels within a month of the first cases being reported. Most of those affected had a mild to moderate form of illness and there were no deaths associated with the outbreak.

cryptosporidiumCryptosporidium is a microscopic protozoan parasite that causes an infection called cryptosporidiosis affecting people and cattle.  The most common symptom is watery diarrhoea, which can range from mild to severe.  There is a number of potential sources, including consumption of contaminated water or food, swimming in contaminated water or through contact with contaminated food or affected animals.

If you follow standard food safety advice to wash all fruits and vegetables, including salad, before you eat them, as well as washing your hands and using clean chopping boards, knives and other utensils, you will greatly reduce the risk of infection.


Is it true that salad is more dangerous than meat?

Not according to official data.

Research from the Health Protection Agency reveals that there are an estimated 1.7 million cases of foodborne illness in England and Wales each year – an average of 33,160 cases each week.

The foods most likely to cause food poisoning are poultry (29 per cent – this is the highest as proportionally more people eat chicken), red meat (17 per cent) and seafood (seven per cent). The foods least likely to cause food poisoning are cooked vegetables, fruit and rice.

Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK. It was responsible for more than 371,000 estimated cases in England and Wales in 2009, resulting in more than 17,500 hospitalisations and 88 deaths. Campylobacter accounts for a third of the cost of the burden of foodborne illness in England and Wales, estimated at more than £583m in 2008.

Listeriosis, the foodborne illness caused by listeria, is relatively rare but listeria causes more deaths from food poisoning in the UK than other foodborne bugs. Vulnerable groups of the population are at increased risk.

So please keep things in perspective and remember to wash the food, your hands and the utensils before preparing and cooking food.

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