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Fresh Fruits and Vegetables: Eating Healthy Shouldn’t Be Hazardous

Center for the Global Food Value Chain Blog

Many of us are eating more fresh fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet. While this is an encouraging trend, there is an increased awareness of the role of produce in food safety related incidents.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates, approximately 48 million people (that is 1 in 6 in the U.S.) get sick each year from food. Using data from outbreak-associated illnesses from 1998 to 2008, the CDC was able to attribute foodborne illnesses to a specific food commodity in 9.63 million illnesses. Of these, 4.43 million foodborne illnesses (or 46.1 percent) were attributed to produce, ranking it as the number one food commodity causing foodborne illness.

Among the foodborne illnesses attributed to produce:

  • 60.5 percent (3.33 million cases) were caused by a virus
  • 27.1 percent (1 million cases) were caused by bacterial agents
  • 29.5 percent (69,000 cases) were caused by parasitic agents  

The average per capita consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables in the U.S. has increased nearly 27 percent from 1976 to 2011—from about 248 pounds to 314 pounds.

The consumption of processed fruits and vegetables over the same time has decreased over 5 percent - from nearly 378 pounds to 358 pounds.

During the period from 1980 to 2005, imports as a share of total domestic consumption increased from about 24 percent to nearly 39 percent for fresh fruits, and from about 9 percent to 14 percent for fresh vegetables.

Does this mean that the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables is more risky now than it has been in the past? Probably not. With improved methods of surveillance and investigation of food borne illnesses, the CDC and other health and regulatory agencies are able to better identify and pinpoint the source of known food borne illnesses and provide better estimates on the attribution of particular food groups to the cause of foodborne illnesses.

So, you may ask, what is being done about the safety of produce? The passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2011 provided the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with an arsenal of new authorities with which to protect the public. The FDA has recently proposed Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing  and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption (aka Produce Safety Rule), and Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food (aka Preventive Controls Rule). Learn more about these proposed rules in the regulatory section of our website and by clicking here. These proposed regulations intend to increase the responsibility for the food industry and set new standards for growing, harvesting and packing of fresh produce and preventive controls food processors, manufacturers, and importers among others. Companies at each link in the food supply chain should respond to these new regulations and adapt to the new requirements.

If you are in the fresh produce industry, consider reviewing the requirements of the proposed rules. Strive to develop and implement an effective food safety plan that addresses these minimum requirements and continue to improve the safety of fresh produce, mitigate potential public health risks to the consumer and further improve consumer confidence.

As for me, I’ll continue to eat my five or more servings of the healthy fruits and vegetables. That reminds me, it’s time for my snack…I think I’ll have a peach.


Dr. Mahipal Kunduru Mahipal Kunduru, Ph.D.
Senior manager | Food Safety
Deloitte & Touche LLP




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