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Foul fowl: Chicken tops government list of most frequently sickening fare

chicken causes most food poisoningChicken takes the cake as the most common source of food poisoning in a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report released today. The report, which analyzed data from 2006's outbreaks of foodborne illnesses in the U.S., found that chicken caused 21 percent of the 27,634 reported cases of food poisoning. Leafy vegetables, such as spinach, were the second-most frequent source, and fruits and nuts were the third.

"Identification of particular food commodities that have caused the outbreaks can help public health officials and the food industry to target control efforts from the farm to the table," chief of the CDC's Diseases Epidemiology Branch, Patricia Griffin, said in a statement.

What was in all these nasty nibbles? More than half of sickened diners had gotten the norovirus, which makes its way into food when a handler doesn't wash their hands after going to the bathroom. Salmonella—the culprit in the peanut butter scare earlier this year—was the next most common. It often comes from animal feces-contaminated food that's undercooked (or not cooked at all).

The number of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. has held steady for the past few years, and according to the CDC report, food-related sicknesses led to 11 deaths in '06.

If the numbers seem low, that may be because the CDC relies on local reports from health departments for its analysis. As The New York Times notes, there are an estimated 76 million cases of food poisoning that don't get reported, and therefore aren't part of the analysis. "It's a nice first step," executive director of the nonprofit Safe Tables Our Priority, Donna Rosenbaum, told the Times. "The problem is that it's based on a very small data set."

Image courtesy of bdjsb7 via Flickr

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