More People Are Getting Sick From Eating Fresh Fruits
More People Are Getting Sick From
Eating Fresh Fruits

1/27/2003

American Phytopathological Society


Salmonella, E. coli, shigellosis, hepatitis A, and Norwalk -- these food-borne
diseases can produce symptoms that run from the mild to
life-threatening. The young and old are particularly vulnerable and
while consumption of beef and poultry have been the most common sources
of such infections, fresh fruits and vegetables are being increasingly
implicated in such outbreaks. So much so, that plant disease scientists
are now taking a closer look at this issue.


"Historically, human pathogens like E. coli and Salmonella have rarely
been associated with plants, so plant disease scientists have not
looked at them directly," says J.W. Buck, a plant pathologist at the
University of Georgia. But that is changing, says Buck, as such
incidences continue to increase.


Buck says there is no single reason why the number of reported
produce-related outbreaks in the U.S. per year doubled between
1973-1987 and 1988-1992 and why they continue to rise. Possible
explanations include the simple fact that we are eating more fruits and
vegetables than ever before. But experts agree that there is more to it
than that and that our food production practices likely bear some
responsibility.


But identifying the exact point along the way, from field to grocery
store, where a strawberry or head of lettuce, for example, might have
become contaminated can be difficult, if not impossible. Unlike other
commodities such as beef and chicken, which are rigorously inspected,
methods to detect pathogens on fresh produce are less advanced and the
sporadic nature of most contamination further limits the effectiveness
of testing.


"Plant disease scientists know a lot about how other microorganisms
interact with plants and the environment to create an outbreak," says
Buck. "This same knowledge can be applied to human pathogens as well.
An exchange of research tools and experiences between plant
pathologists and food microbiologists could result in tremendous
advances towards managing food-borne diseases related to produce
consumption."


According to Buck, one impediment to this kind of research, however, is
that plant pathology laboratories currently lack the appropriate
facilities for working with human pathogens, which are considered
biosafety hazards. Until such changes can be made, says Buck, plant
pathology models and practices, such as integrated pest management,
that have worked well in controlling other plant diseases would likely
work in helping to minimize the risk of human disease as well. Says
Buck, "No doubt plant disease scientists can, and should, play a more
significant role in food safety issues in the future."


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Contact: Cindy Ash

cash@scisoc.org

651-454-7250

American Phytopathological Society