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Food safety: Leafy greens can be as dangerous as raw chicken

Lettuce field

By Shaul Turner

You scrub the counters and go nuts with the antibacterial kitchen spray, but you still may be doing something that’s endangering your family when it comes to preparing their meals.

Eating foods like chicken, fish, meat, pork and dairy products raw can cause serious illness from E. coli and salmonella contamination.

But new studies show leafy vegetables can present a risk as well.

Dr. Sheryl Zajdowicz of Metropolitan State University of Denver says the reason is that we tend to be more careful with raw poultry and meat and cook them first. “Food-borne organisms are removed by heating and typically you don’t heat leafy greens, you eat them in salads and such.”

The best way to protect your family is to thoroughly soak then rinse your veggies.

Dr.  Zajdowicz warns, “Don’t ever soak them in a sink. A sink can be a cesspool of microbial contamination.”

Many people also assume that pre-packaged foods are germ free but they should be washed as well.

Keep hands clean by washing after you pick up poultry, pork, fish or raw eggs. You want to be careful to avoid cross-contamination. For more information on how to protect your family visit www.foodsafety.gov.

Recent studies show 1,451 people died from 1998 to 2008 in outbreaks of food-borne illnesses.

Meat and poultry accounted for 28.7 percent of deaths, dairy products (including eggs) for 14.5 percent and vegetables for 16.4 percent.

Health experts say more than half of all food-borne illnesses were caused by plant foods. Leafy vegetables like spinach led the list causing more than 2.1 million people to become ill.

The CDC says produce-related illnesses come largely from a norovirus infection of the food preparer. Poultry is often contaminated with salmonella and listeria.