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Illnesses from fruits and vegetables on the rise





Dennis Douda

There is a growing likelihood that fruits and vegetables, and not meat, may be to blame for people becoming violently ill after eating the foods.

Mike Stein, according to this story, recently ate some food that left more than a bad taste in his mouth.

"We got home and I started feeling queasy," Stein said.

He got violently ill and figured it was from some bad seafood. When he called his local health department, people there said his salad was likely to blame. Stein was further quoted as saying, "They suspected that it was some kind of contamination on the vegetables. They indicated that this is not an unusual situation."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the problem of foodborne illness, caused by contaminated fruits and vegetables is on the rise. The biggest culprits are lettuce, melons, sprouts, tomatoes and green onions.

Patricia Griffin with the CDC was quoted as saying, "When we look at all of our outbreaks, about 13 percent of those people got ill from eating a fresh fruit or vegetable -- one that was consumed raw -- and that's double what we saw 10, 15 years ago. ... Once a fruit or vegetable has been cut, it can be a better medium for growth of bacteria."

Steve Swanson was the lead investigators on the E-coli outbreak in Minnesota last September.

When the first three samples arrived, E-coli O157 and a strain never before seen in Minnesota were found.

"What came out with these first three people what that they had all had prepackaged salad," Swanson said. "Within three days, we had 10 people who all had the same unusual DNA fingerprint -- E-coli O157."

Swanson even drove to an Edina, Minn. house at 11 p.m. one night to pull lettuce from a victim's refrigerator. Back at the lab, scientists extracted the E-coli and make public health history.

"That's what we were able to do for the first time in a public health investigation anywhere in the United States, was find the E-coli 0157 directly in the lettuce itself," Swanson said.

The E-coli outbreak does not mean you shouldn't eat lettuce. Swanson and others believe you can guard against intestinal illness by eating fruits and vegetables. Even more, the triple washing process used by salad makers can clean lettuce better than you can at home.

To stay safe, Griffin recommends washing fruits and vegetables before you eat them, peel your fruits and cut off any parts that are bad.