This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle’s health section on May 1, 2013.
Unwashed fruits and vegetables are the foods most likely to make you sick, but improperly cooked chicken is the food most likely to be deadly. That’s according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which examined data from more than 13,000 food-borne disease outbreaks in the United States from 1998 to 2008.
Determining what caused the illnesses proved to be difficult – researchers could trace only a little more than one-third of the outbreaks to specific viruses, bacteria or parasites found on specific foods. But among those, plant-based foods – fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains – caused 51 percent of illnesses. Leafy greens alone were responsible for 22 percent of them. Meat, poultry and dairy caused about 42 percent of the diseases, and seafood was responsible for just more than 6 percent.
Less than 1 percent of the infected people in the study, or about 1,000 people annually, died of food-borne illnesses. Among those, listeria or salmonella from undercooked poultry was the most likely culprit.
The CDC recommends that produce be rinsed under running water and dried with a clean cloth or paper towel. Bagged prewashed produce is safe to eat as it is. Poultry should be cooked until the internal temperature at the thickest part of the meat is 165 degrees Fahrenheit.