According to the study by the CDC, over 9 million people each year get a foodborne illness due to a major pathogen. Not only are these numbers high, but identifying the specific foods to blame can be difficult to trace. The study points out that, "most agents are transmitted through a variety of foods, and linking an illness to a particular food is rarely possible except during an outbreak." However, when it comes to vulnerable food groups, fresh produce is ahead of others, accounting for 46 percent of illnesses.

Foodborne illness outbreaks are on the rise from fresh produce. It's important for consumers to be aware and prepared in case they fall victim to contamination.

Common Foodborne Illnesses from Fresh Produce

Foodborne illnesses include bacteria, toxins, parasites and viruses. The following are the most commonly contracted bugs in the United States:

  • Campylobacter
  • Ciguatera
  • Clostridium Botulinum
  • Cyclospora
  • E. coli
  • Hepatitis A
  • Listeria
  • Noroviruses
  • Salmonella
  • Scombrotoxin
  • Vibrio Parahaemolyticus
  • Vibrio Vulnificus

Symptoms of Foodborne Illnesses

While each pathogen is different, many of the symptoms remain the same across the board. Below are common symptoms related to foodborne illnesses from the NIH. Remember that these symptoms are also common with other illnesses like the flu, so visiting a doctor is important to distinguish where the symptoms are originating.

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Weakness

How to Avoid Common Illnesses

While you might be tempted to stop buying your favorite leafy greens, experts do not recommend reducing your produce intake. Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy lifestyle and, when eaten regularly, can provide lasting health benefits later in life. Instead, there are precautions you can take to decrease your likelihood of contracting a major pathogen without skipping fresh produce:

  • Wash your produce: Even if you plan on peeling your produce (such as a melon), washing it can decrease your risk. Anything on the outside of the fruit or vegetable can be easily transferred to the interior on the knife.

  • Remove outer leaves of leafy vegetables: Produce like lettuce and cabbage should have exterior leaves removed, as these are the most likely to have bacteria or other types of contamination.

  • Buy refrigerated fresh-cut produce: If you're purchasing cut fruit or bagged salad greens, the CSP recommends they should be refrigerated or surrounded by ice.

  • Keep produce refrigerated: Any pre-cut or perishable fruits and vegetables should be stored in a clean refrigerator. When in doubt, keep your produce in the fridge.

  • Wash your hands: Before handling, preparing or eating fresh produce, wash your hands to eliminate any contamination.

What to Do if You Become Ill

Even with all proper precautions, there is always the chance that you can contract a foodborne illness. Unintended contamination can happen from farm to table without any knowledge to the consumer. If you do believe you've become ill from fresh produce you've eaten at home, at a restaurant or at another facility, follow these steps:

1. If your symptoms are serious, seek medical attention immediately. Certain pathogens can be life-threatening and should not be taken lightly.

2. If you are not sure of the source, record anything you ate or drank in the past week as soon as possible so your memory is still fresh.

3. Contact a reputable lawyer with experience in personal injury and/or foodborne illness cases. They will be able to work with you to help identify your next steps of action, depending on the type of illness and contamination.

While many food suppliers, producers and restaurants may claim they followed procedure and had no knowledge of any contamination, they can still be liable. The attorneys at Lipkin & Higgins are well-versed in proving fault and liability in personal injury cases, and can help you with your case. Contact our Chicago law firm to learn more.