Fruits and Vegetables Contain Norovirus, Study Finds

Fruits and Vegetables Containing Norovirus

Fruits and vegetables are crucial to any healthy diet. However, a recent study found that they are also the most likely source of foodborne illness.

Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discovered that produce was accountable for 46 percent of foodborne illnesses from 1998 to 2008. Furthermore, the main culprit behind this high level of illness was not animal contamination or pesticide use. Rather, food preparation and poor human hygiene were primarily responsible.

Federal regulators have focused on preventing animal contamination from reaching food exports, subsequently reducing outbreaks of diseases like E. coli, salmonella, and listeria. However, norovirus, the most common virus contracted from produce, is spread exclusively by humans. According to the CDC, it causes roughly 21 million illnesses, 70,000 hospitalizations, and 800 deaths every year.

Norovirus is spread when an individual handling food fails to wash his or her hands following a bout of diarrhea or vomiting. The lingering norovirus can spread for days after an individual feels better. The symptoms of norovirus include inflammation of the stomach and intestines (known as acute gastroenteritis), diarrhea, stomach pain, vomiting, fever, tiredness, headaches, and muscle aches.

The CDC says there are several easy steps that you can take to prevent foodborne consumers. They suggest that people:

  • Wash their hands before and after preparing food or having a meal
  • Cook raw meat to kill any bacteria that may be present (consider these Food Preparation Guidelines)
  • Make sure fruits and vegetables are well washed, and in some cases cook raw vegetables in order to kill bacteria
  • Avoid eating raw foods of animal origin when possible

The CDC reinforces that despite its findings, produce is an important part of a healthy diet. One CDC representative said "[The CDC] certainly would not want people to avoid any category of food," but the agency says consumers should take the necessary steps to make their food as safe as possible.

Sources: "The surprising foods that make people sick." January 30, 2013.
"What you need to know about kids and norovirus." February 5, 2013.