The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found fresh produce – and leafy greens in particular – are the main culprits in outbreaks of food borne illnesses.

In a report analysing data on outbreaks of food borne illnesses in the US between 1998 and 2008, CDC found produce was implicated in 46% of the 4,598 outbreaks recorded. Leafy greens were most frequently found to have carried pathogens and were associated with 23% of the outbreaks.

According to CDC, meat accounted for 43% of cases examined, with poultry products implicated in the majority of these epidemics.

The news adds to a growing global body of evidence highlighting food safety issues in the produce sector. Earlier this month, the European Food Safety Authority reported a rise in the number of cases of food-borne illnesses originating from foods of a non-animal origin – again emphasising that leafy greens carry the greatest risk.

Michael Worthington, chief executive of the Produce Marketing Association in Australia and New Zealand, said the industry in those countries is stepping up its efforts to improve food safety. The PMA supports a multi-stakeholder approach, he added.

“Australia and New Zealand have never had major crises such as [those] seen in US and Europe, but we are taking a proactive stance on this, to ensure that we are doing research in high risk areas, ensuring the supply chain has good practices in place and attempting to get all parts of the supply chain from growers to retailers to work collaboratively on this issue,” he told just-food.

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An important element of this is the sharing of best practice – often on a global level. Worthington recently visited the Center for Produce Safety which is based at UC Davis in California, with a view to establishing a similar – and connected – facility in Australia.

Worthington emphasised that addressing produce safety must be the industry’s primary concern: “Consumers need to be confident that healthy fresh produce is safe to consume in whatever form and our industry has an obligation to ensure everything possible is done to minimise risks.”