Fruit and veg could kill you

In their eyes, steak comes from cattle which consume grass, clearly making it a vegetable.

BARELY a day goes by in which we are not told to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables.

We will live longer, remain healthier and generally enjoy life more, they say. We will even save the planet and go to the environmental equivalent of heaven when we die (believers being generally non-religious) if the fruit and vegetables are organic and locally grown.

What we are not told is the fact that we might also catch food poisoning and become very ill, and perhaps even die. Fresh fruit and vegetables, especially leafy vegetables such as lettuce, are responsible for a large proportion of food-borne illnesses.

The US government’s Centre for Disease Control recently released a report of a study of food-borne disease outbreaks over 11 years from 1998 through 2008.

It found produce foods, defined as fruits, nuts and five vegetable types, cause illness in 4.4 million people in the US a year. About 2.2 million people get sick annually from eating contaminated leafy vegetables, representing about 23% of the 9.6 million cases of food-borne illness each year. Similar proportions would inevitably be found in Australia.

In other words, it can be risky to consume fresh fruit and vegetables, particularly leafy vegetables such as lettuce.

An additional risk comes when the produce is produced organically, since this usually means relying on manure for fertiliser. In Germany last year 23 people were killed and more than 1000 hospitalised as a result of E. coli infection from organic bean sprouts. That’s twice as many as died as a result of the nuclear power plant meltdown in Japan and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico combined.

There are a number of options for avoiding, or at least reducing, the risk of acquiring food poisoning from fresh fruit and vegetables.

One is to avoid eating organic fresh food. If it’s been fertilised with manure, it’s dangerous. Another is to only consume produce that comes in a natural protective wrapping, such as bananas.

The CDC recommends rinsing fresh fruits and vegetables in running tap water to remove visible dirt and grime, and the removal and discard of the outermost leaves of a head of lettuce or cabbage.

Because bacteria can grow well on the cut surface of fruit or vegetable, it also advises being careful not to contaminate these foods while slicing them up on the cutting board, and avoid leaving cut produce at room temperature for many hours.

It further suggests taking care not to become a source of foodborne illness yourself. That means not preparing food for others if you yourself have a diarrheal illness, and of course not changing a baby's nappies while preparing food.

Naturally, if the produce is cooked then any contaminants are killed. The risk of contamination is also low if it is snap frozen shortly after harvest.

But perhaps the last word should go to those who believe in the concept of only consuming recycled fruit and vegetables. In their eyes, steak comes from cattle which consume grass, clearly making it a vegetable. Bacon is from pigs, which eat grain (ie. a vegetable). And of course beer and whisky are mainly made from barley.

For those wanting salad with their recycled grass, low risk options can be found. Potato chips (obviously a vegetable) are cooked in vegetable oil. Tomato sauce is made from cooked tomatoes while mayonnaise contains more recycled grass. For an exotic touch add some pickles (a cooked vegetable) and anchovies (healthy seafood).

Another version is to each day try to enjoy something from each of the four food groups: the sugar group, the salty-snack group, the caffeine group, and the "whatever-the-thing-in-the-tinfoi l-in-the-back-of-the-fridge-is" group.

  • David Leyonhjelm has been an agribusiness consultant for 25 years. He may be contacted at
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    David Leyonhjelm

    David Leyonhjelm

    has worked in agribusiness for 30 years and is a Senator for NSW representing the Liberal Democrats.
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    W A Price
    13/02/2013 5:00:53 AM

    Lettuces grown in human effluent is not OK by any standards. But vegetable oils extracted under heat and chemicals at oil refineries are hazardous foods along with packaging using BPA and BPS and modern sugars such as high fructose corn syrup or soy foods other than fermented. Of course many of these industrial commodities(foods) are now fed to animals before those animals and their products(eggs & dairy) are eaten by humans and so we now have a lot less choice in the way of natural foods, organic or otherwise.
    13/02/2013 5:56:02 AM

    What a poor attempt to twist facts. You forgot to mention that according to the USDA, each year in the USA, 48 million people get sick and 3,000 people die from eating contaminated meat.
    13/02/2013 7:00:04 AM

    What a stupid article. Those responsible for content at “The Land” should be ashamed of themselves for printing this garbage! You provide no balance and the half bake attempt of humour was waste of time. You guys as supposed to encourage and support agriculture not play games with farmers’ livelihoods like idiots!
    13/02/2013 7:00:14 AM

    •David Leyonhjelm what chemical company do you work for ???????????????????
    13/02/2013 7:21:24 AM

    Relax folks, he's quite clearly 'having a lend'. Just read the last sentence again. The jokes on anyone who takes it seriously.
    13/02/2013 7:32:02 AM

    Typical load of codswallop from David Leyonhjelm. Whatever he says, believe the opposite - and you'll be close to the mark.
    13/02/2013 7:37:52 AM

    The article made me chuckle. Some of the comment make me laugh. I'm with bg.
    Backblock Burk
    13/02/2013 8:21:38 AM

    perhaps some people lost their sense of humour or had it extracted at birth
    13/02/2013 9:50:34 AM

    How do you greenies etc like slanted articles? Sounds just like the articles vs LE to me probably with more truths than the vs LE had however. Talking nos., how many of you knew it was approx 12 slaughterhouses out of over 800 which were not good? How many of you knew that au meatworks are hopelessly inefficient with $350/hd kill costs when usa does $150? How many knew that cost of transport south of nt is just too exorbitant? How many knew nthern cattle producers needed the extra money to stop cows and calves from dying badly at home? Good on you David!!
    13/02/2013 10:00:33 AM

    Ha ha, I don't know about kill you but some of the comments clearly show too much fruit and veg will kill your sense of humour. A very witty dig at some of the over-the-top crap that has been directed at red meat over the years.
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    Agribuzz with David LeyonhjelmCommentary, news and analysis with agribusiness consultant David Leyonhjelm. Email David at


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