We think of fresh vegetables as something that’s always good to eat, but they can be dangerous. Scallions imported from Mexico recently killed three people and made hundreds more sick. Grow your own? Research shows that vegetables grown in urban gardens can be contaminated with lead.

Marian Burros writes in The New York Times that in 2000, there were as many cases of food poisoning caused by fruits and vegetables as there were from meat, fish and eggs combined. This is due to an increase in imports from countries with lower sanitary standards, where fields are often irrigated with contaminated water.

When the F.D.A. tested imported produce, it found that almost 5% of it was contaminated with harmful bacteria. The Centers for Disease Control say that 5,000 people die and 76 million become ill from food poisoning every year.

In 1996 and 1997 it was Guatemalan raspberries, and from 2000 through 2002 it was salmonella in Mexican cantaloupes. In 1999 salmonella was found in tomatoes grown in the U.S.

Megan Fellman reports that another problem is lead from car exhausts. A study by Northwestern University in Chicago shows that vegetables grown in urban gardens in the U.S. may contain hazardous amounts of lead.

“We are concerned about the edible portions of leafy vegetables and herbs that were found to contain lead,” says researcher Kimberly A. Gray. “It is important that urban gardeners locate fruit and vegetable gardens away from buildings, test the lead levels in their soils and develop strategies to ensure safety for them and their children.” Root vegetables, such as carrots, beets and onions, are likely to be especially contaminated.

So feel free to refuse the brussels sprouts this Thanksgiving and go straight for the stuffing. After dinner, browse in our Christmas Store, where you’ll find Getting in the Gap, Wayne Dyer’s wonderful book and CD filled with wisdom and a brand new way to meditate.

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