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For Immediate
April 14, 1999

For more information:

  Statement of Caroline Smith DeWaal
Director of Food Safety
for the Center for Science in the Public Interest on the

Introduction of the Fruit and Vegetable Safety Act of 1999

Who doesn’t like strawberries or fat, juicy raspberries? Who can resist the first asparagus of the year? A cornucopia of fruits and vegetables is available all year-round which provide a definite health benefit, as long as they are safe. At CSPI, we are constantly urging our million consumer members to eat their fruits and vegetables at least five times a day.

Unfortunately, consumers have also gotten sick from fruits and vegetables contaminated with foodborne pathogens. In a survey of 225 food-poisoning outbreaks, CSPI found that over 20% were linked to produce items, second only to meat and poultry. Today, we are releasing a chart documenting 55 outbreaks linked to fruits, vegetables, or salads that have occurred since 1990.

Just this winter, 72 consumers were sickened by the potentially deadly E. coli O157:H7. The source was not hamburger meat, but iceberg lettuce. You'll note that the deadly E. coli has turned up on lettuce many times in our list of outbreaks. Hundreds have been sickened from contaminated alfalfa sprouts. Two years ago, hundreds became ill from a virus found on Mexican strawberries that were served in the school lunch program, and thousands were sickened by imported raspberries harboring a parasite. Who knows what fruit or vegetable could be the next hazard?

Contaminated fruits and vegetables aren't the type of problem that consumers can solve with better cooking or washing; it has to be fixed at the farm or the processing plant. That is why Senator Harkin’s bill is so important to American consumers. Before the government has to issue advisories warning consumers against eating fruits and vegetables, let’s fix the problem at its source. Making sure that farmers and processors use the most up-to-date methods for producing safe food is an important government task, one that will benefit not only consumers, but also the farmers who grow the food.

[Food Safety]