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How Food Poisoning Affects Your Leafy Greens?

A report published by the World Health Organisation in 2015 revealed that there were 600 million foodborne illnesses and 420,000 deaths occurred globally in year 2010 alone. The highest burden of foodborne disease per population was observed in Africa followed by Southeast Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean.

According to the Ministry of Health Malaysia, in 2015, the incidence rate (IR) of food poisoning was the highest at 47.3 per 100,000 populations. One of the reasons why Malaysia has high cases of foodborne diseases is due to the suitable temperature and condition for the growth of most bacteria. However, cases of foodborne illness in Malaysia often go unreported and a chain of events need to be addressed first before it is brought to the authority. Therefore, the exact number of incidence rate might be higher than the reported one.

Many people consume fresh vegetables regularly due to the health benefits that these greens bring. It has been reported that foodborne parasitic infections are associated with the consumption of contaminated fresh vegetables. In general, fruits and vegetables are considered to be vehicles that easily transmit parasites into individuals, especially when eaten raw.

It is important to note, though, that not all greens are grown in the same way. Vegetory cultivates its products in a controlled, clean environment, which allows us to eliminate several of the root causes of food poisoning that are found in other leafy vegetables. Let us explain how.

What Is Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning is a sickness caused by eating food contaminated by viruses, bacteria or parasites. There are over 250 types of foodborne illnesses that are associated with various pathogens. The common agents of foodborne illnesses are Salmonella Typhi, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli and Clostridium perfringens. The frequent sources of foodborne outbreaks are meat, dairy products, eggs and vegetables.

Illness can begin within hours of eating contaminated food or have an incubation period as long as several days. Most people only experience mild symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, but the condition can be dangerous, even potentially leading to death.

Why Does Food Poisoning Occur?

As mentioned above, food poisoning can be caused by various types of sources which include vegetables. Traditionally, many vegetables grow low to the ground and they can be subjected to contamination when leaves brush against soil. The leaves of these vegetables have a complex structure, which makes it easy for soil and other food safety hazards to hide during cleaning.

In a study by Brazilian researchers, it was showed that 66% of lettuce grown using traditional farming system and organic system had E. coli counts above the recommended limit, while all hydroponically grown samples had counts below the limit. This is probably related to the soil contact that occurs in both traditional and organic farming systems, which is an important source of microbial contamination. On top of that, the practice of irrigation with untreated water and the application of manure as a fertiliser, especially in the organic farming, can contribute to a higher level of contamination.

Harvested greens may be washed at the farms – usually with a sanitising solution that consists of water and bleach, before being packaged for grocery shops. However, it is difficult to disinfect and remove all the lingering bacteria, viruses and parasites because of the intricate structure of the vegetables. Any pathogens that remain after washing can continue to grow and spread to other leaves, surfaces at the packaging facility, produce in the grocery shops and eventually, other items in your fridge.

Cross-contamination that occurs during inappropriate food handling can also cause food poisoning. From vegetables harvesting, washing, packaging, to grocery shops, there is a risk of cross contamination. Additional step such as in the preparation of ready-to-eat food increases the risk and possibly leading to food poisoning.

Prevention of Food Poisoning from Leafy Greens

There are some steps that you can take to prevent food poisoning. For instance, be sure to store vegetables in your fridge away from meat and poultry to prevent leaked juices from getting onto clean food. Wash your hands, knives and chopping board regularly.

If applicable, remove the outer leaves of your produce to reduce contaminants that may be lingering on the surface. Other than that, what you can do while shopping is to pick up your produce last so that it stays cool in the refrigerated section for as long as possible.

It is necessary to recognise, however, that it is impossible to rinse away all of the pathogens present on unsanitary produce. The only way to actually eliminate the causes of food poisoning in contaminated leafy greens is through cooking at the appropriate temperatures. So always keep that in mind the next time you prepare leafy greens for your meals.

Vegetory’s Solution

Don’t let this information discourage you from eating your greens because Vegetory has the solution for you. Vegetory grows its vegetables hydroponically in a controlled environment. These leafy vegetables are cultivated without any soil and with no contamination from pathogen sources like manure or animals. Even vegetables that are labelled as “Organic” are often still grown in the ground and are therefore susceptible to whatever contaminants may be present in the soil.

Our vegetables are cared for in a sanitary indoor environment that keeps pathogens at bay and in which there is no need to apply pesticides or herbicides. Furthermore, once the plants are ready to be eaten, they are harvested and handled using only the best possible practices to maintain cleanliness. Our fresh produce is then transported directly to our customers within a day or two after harvest to ensure that the customer gets the freshest greens available.

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Author: Christine S.H. Lee

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