No, the CDC is NOT saying that Leafy Vegetables are Dangerous

February 5, 2013 drdarria 1 Comments

You may have read the headlines about the new-found terrors of leafy vegetables–“Leafy Vegetables a Major Source of Food-Borne Illness”…. “Leafy Vegetables Often Cause Food Poisoning”…. “Leafy Vegetable Violent Crime on the Rise”…

Ok, forget about that last one–I read it in the checkout aisle at the grocery store.

But really, many of these are exaggerations, and I dont want you to be concerned about your veggies!  These headlines are referring to a recent study released by the CDC on Food-borne illness (Of note: I’m not saying that the CDC sensationalized the topic–that was done by the lay press, and I’m just clarifying what the CDC actually said for you).

So, before you put down that apple and pick up a muffin in the name of Health (I know, party pooper, right?), read below for a more clear explanation of what the CDC report ACTUALLY said (and why I think that the leafies are getting a bum rap).

  • The CDC DID say that more illnesses were attributable to leafy green vegetables than any other food type, but if you look at the actual statistics, leafy green vegetables and dairy overlap, and they also noted that leafies are in many other foods (from your salad to your burger to your burrito), so may be accounted for more heavily. 
  • Leafies are not lethal:  Leafy greens may have caused illness, but they are NOT the leading cause of hospitalizations for food-borne illnesses (that would be dairy), and they’re WAY down on the list for the causes of deaths (beaten out by #1 poultry, #2 dairy, #3 vine-stalk vegetables, #4 fruits and nuts).
  • Or you could just be attacked by a shark:  According to the CDC, 0.000025% of the US population dies annually from illnesses borne by leafy greens. That’s only marginally more common than being attacked by a shark–and far lower than the heart and weight-healthy benefits that they provide.
  • The majority of illnesses caused by leafy green vegetables are caused by Norovirus, a disease that is transmitted from one human to another (hence, the person preparing the food).  While we can’t always control what happens outside our home (though the CDC is calling for more of this for dairy and leafy greens), you CAN be hyper-vigilant at home to protect yourself and your loved ones.

To keep the fruits and veggies that you prepare at your home safe, follow these guidelines (you can find more at

  • Wash small “piece” fruits such as berries and grapes under cold running water in a colander.  I like to soak them first, the pour through the colander.
  • Scrub firmer produce with your hands under running water (apples, tomatoes)
  • Peel and toss outer leaves of leafy veggies (spinach, lettuce)
  • Always WASH the fruit/vegetable before you cut it—otherwise, whatever was on the rind will be dragged through the clean portion with each slice of your knife
  • Cut off and discard any tears in the skin or bruises—that little indentation/torn area on your apple peel is a PERFECT entry for bacteria, so use your knife to cut around it
  • Did you get distracted by “The Bachelor” (it’s ok, I wont tell) episode and leave out the cut fruit you just made? Small amounts of bacteria that would otherwise be harmless can THRIVE in the warm, non-refrigerated environment, so if you’re not eating it, put it back in the fridge!

So, happy eating! As always, please let me know if you have any comments or questions!

Dr Darria

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