reports that vegetables are nearly as dangerous as under-cooked meat when it comes to transmitting deadly food illnesses like E. coli, salmonella and hepatitis, according to a study of federal outbreak records by Scripps Howard News Service.

Fresh raw vegetables like lettuce, spinach, tomatoes and green onions were responsible for the illness or deaths of nearly 19,000 people nationwide over a five-year period.

Beef, chicken, pork and their byproducts were responsible for nearly 22,600 deaths or illnesses, according to the study of 6,374 outbreaks reported from Jan. 1, 2000 through Dec. 31, 2004.

No other foodstuff came close to the threats posed by vegetables and meats, the study found. Seafood like raw oysters and tuna was a distant third, causing fewer than 3,000 deaths or illnesses.

"Given several E. coli outbreaks linked to produce in recent years, we believe there’s a need for thorough review of the produce supply system in our country today," Taco Bell President Greg Creed said.