A study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has found that fresh produce items cause more foodborne illnesses than any other food category.

The nonprofit group looked at 10 years of foodborne outbreak data to identify trends in which foods are most often linked to reports of illness. Fresh produce such as cilantro, cucumbers, cantaloupes and peppers--foods that are most often eaten raw--caused the 629 out of almost 20,000 illnesses.

However, CSPI does not believe that Americans should avoid fresh produce. In fact, the group maintains that “fresh produce is safer than many other foods.”

“You are twice as likely to get sick from eating a serving of chicken as from eating a serving of vegetables,” says CSPI senior food safety attorney David Plunkett, co-author of the report. “The data support improving the safety of our produce supply but don’t support eating less fruits and vegetables, which provide valuable nutrients.”

The 10 year period studies by CSPI included nearly 194,000 reported illnesses from over 9,600 outbreaks. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control was only able to identify both the food source and the contaminant for 40 percent of those reported cases. For these purposes, CSPI defined an outbreak as “two or more cases of a similar illness caused by the same food source”.

Besides fresh produce, seafood was the second leading cause of outbreaks, although the actual number of people sickened was fairly small. In third place was poultry, which caused more illnesses than either beef or pork.

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