COMMENTARY | Thanks to a statistically accurate but highly misleading report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people now have another reason not to eat their veggies.
The CDC reports that contaminated vegetables are more likely to sicken people than contaminated meats. According to the CDC study, every year approximately 4.4 million people become sick after eating contaminated produce (which includes fruits, veggies, and nuts.) Compare that to the 2.1 million people who develop a food-borne illness after eating meats or poultry. While the data may be correct, it misrepresents what foods we should be eating more of.
Americans do not eat enough fruits and vegetables. If we did, we would see less heart disease, which remains the leading cause of death in America. In addition to fewer cardiovascular problems, we would also see a decline in rates for diabetes and gall bladder disease, which is frequently caused by a high-fat diet. And judging by how many patients I see every week needing insulin and/or having gall bladder surgery, I'd say these problems are all too common as well.
This is not to say eating meat is bad. It's just that the American diet is very meat-heavy and the healthier meat choices, like lean cuts of beef and chicken, are not making it to the dinner plates. It's a case of cheap hamburgers being more popular than baked chicken. The 'beef' I have with the CDC report is that it may make Americans fear their fruits and vegetables and proclaim their hamburgers to be safer. If you don't think this could happen, consider the title of this article on MSN.com: 'Healthy' veggies make us sicker than meat each year.
Even I'd be wary of eating a carrot after reading a sentence like that.
What the CDC should do with this data is emphasize why produce is more likely than meats to make us sick. One of the main reasons is inadequate handwashing. You should always wash your hands after touching raw meat. Sure you can avoid food contamination by thoroughly cooking your meats. But if you prepared a salad after handling raw meat and you didn't wash up beforehand, you're still at risk for contamination.
Yes, the statistics are accurate: Produce is more likely to make us sick than meats. But the CDC should have provided a better explanation of why this is the case, rather than play on the irony of this data.
Jennifer Budd is a registered nurse and a former broadcast journalist in the New Jersey/NYC area.
- Disease & Medical Conditions
- Centers for Disease Control