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New study examines produce and food safety outbreaks

FROM PMA. Royal Pest Management is a member of the Produce Marketing Association and the Food Protection Alliance

by Lee Mannering

Yesterday, our colleagues at the Alliance for Food and Farming released a new report analyzing the cause of produce-related foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States. It noted that 12.3 percent of all U.S. foodborne illness outbreaks from 1990 to 2007 were linked to fresh produce; the rest were caused by other foods. And of the produce-specific outbreaks, 2.2 percent originated from the growing, packaging/harvesting or processing of the produce items; over 10 percent were associated with improper handling after leaving “the farm.” The next leading sources were mishandling at foodservice, community events and in the home, respectively.

The report concluded that improvements are still necessary when it comes to training and educating both consumers and restaurant employees on safe handling of produce. Findings showed that 65 percent of outbreaks traced back to a produce item can be attributed to improper handling in a restaurant, most likely the result of cross contamination or improper employee hygiene. Mishandling at community events caused 14 percent of the produce-related outbreaks, followed by mishandling in the home which represents 13 percent of outbreaks associated with produce.

With regard to changing consumer food safety behaviors in the home environment, PMA has been a long-time supporter of the Partnership for Food Safety Education and its consumer education campaigns. The partnership’s consistent, science-based, consumer-tested messaging helps educate the public and change food handling practices.

Many thanks to the Alliance for Food and Farming for their work and analysis of this important industry and consumer issue. PMA welcomes this analysis of CDC data and related findings because they provide valuable information and insight for the produce supply chain in our ongoing quest to improve our food safety capability and deliver healthy, delicious fresh produce every bite, every time.

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