EFSA's Panel on Biological Hazards found that the number of outbreaks in the EU linked with fresh produce increased over the period - being associated with 10 cases of outbreaks, 26 per cent of cases, 35 per cent of hospitalisations and 46 per cent of deaths.
However EFSA cautioned: "One should consider the high health impact of the 2011 sprout-associated outbreak of Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli. If data from this large outbreak are excluded, foods of non-animal origin were associated with 5% of all deaths from reported foodborne outbreaks."
After leafy greens eaten raw and Salmonella, the other highest-ranking combinations of foods and pathogens, all ranked equally, were: Salmonella and bulb and stem vegetables including asparagus, onion and garlic; Salmonella and tomatoes; Salmonella and melons; and pathogenic E. coli and fresh pods, legumes or grains.
The risk ranking model used is based on seven criteria: the strength of associations between food and pathogen, incidence of illness, burden of disease, dose-response relationship, consumption, prevalence of contamination and pathogen growth potential during shelf life.
Commenting on the data, the FPC said: "Fresh fruit and vegetables have accounted for just 3.8 per cent of all food borne outbreaks in England and Wales over the last 18 years."
"Good agricultural practices, hygiene preparations and packaging minimise the potential for contamination. The fresh produce industry has stringent standards in place to ensure that consumers can enjoy safe, healthy good quality fresh produce."