Fruits, nuts and vegetables accounted for nearly half of all reported U.S. illnesses from E. coli, salmonella and other foodborne bacteria in 2008, surpassing those linked to tainted beef and other meats, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

During 2008, the most recent year with available data, there were 1,034 reported foodborne disease outbreaks resulting in 23,152 illnesses, 1,276 hospitalizations, and 22 deaths, the CDC said in a report released Sept. 9:

While beef, fish and poultry caused the largest number of outbreaks, fruits, nuts and vegetables caused more actual illnesses than other foods, according to the CDC report.

Among single food commodities linked to outbreaks, 24% of reported illnesses were attributed to fruits and nuts and 23% to “vine-stalk” vegetables, according to Atlanta-based CDC.

The report underscores growing produce industry concerns over outbreaks linked to contaminated lettuce, spinach and other foods in recent years.

In 2006, E. coli-tainted spinach grown in California was blamed for the deaths of three people and illnesses in 200 others. Last year, shredded romaine lettuce contaminated with a lesser-known E. coli strain sickened at least 26 people in five states.

Salmonella was the leading cause of hospitalizations and deaths and the cause of more than half of the multistate outbreaks in 2008, the CDC said. Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, or “STEC,” caused the second most hospitalizations.

Although the number of 2008 illnesses was about 5% below the average for the previous five years, E. coli and salmonella outbreaks still exceeded a “Healthy People” food safety objective created in 2010, the CDC said. The 35 STEC outbreaks were more than triple the objective’s target of 11.

The CDC compiles a foodborne illness website database that tracks location of outbreaks, number of people sickened and other information. Foodborne bacteria cause an estimated 48 million illnesses every year in the U.S., according to CDC.