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Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

KaiDecember 10, 2018

Revealed: New Zealand’s most dangerous fruit and veg

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

Inspired by the recently publicised onion-related peril of sausage sizzles, The Spinoff goes deep into the produce aisle and finds that getting your 5+ a day can be a risky business.

A few weeks ago, a story came out that shocked right-thinking Antipodeans to their very cores. Bunnings Warehouse had issued a ‘serving suggestion’ advising sausage sizzlers plying their wares outside its stores on both sides of the ditch to place the onions on the bread first, followed by the sausage, thus flying in the face of convention.

The reason? To prevent the onion from falling out and landing on the ground, which could create a slipping hazard.

Debate raged across the land – was this really a common problem? Were A&Es filling up with victims of Bunnings-onion-slippage-related accidents on a regular basis? Surely not. But how could we really know?

In what was, quite frankly, a genius move, the New Zealand Herald requested onion-related claims figures from ACC, which showed there had been 3001 such claims between January 1, 2013, and November 14, 2018. Of those, only 21 were related to slipping on the humble allium. But still, prevention is better than cure, and that’s 21 people who could have been saved from harm had the onion-on-the-bottom sausage-sizzle rule been observed.

Here at The Spinoff, onion-gate was a big topic of discussion, and focus soon turned to the dangers of other produce. We’d all heard about the perils of attempting to remove an avocado stone with a knife, and, if the old gag is based on reality, banana skins must have caused thousands of accidents, we reasoned.

There was only one way to find out the true dangers of fresh produce. Our initial request for claims figures relating to all fruit and vegetables was respectfully declined because it would be impossible to search for – the ACC research team would need a list of specific terms. The longer the list, the longer it would take, so we narrowed it down to 15 common fruit and veg. Two weeks later the claims figures arrived, and the results* were compelling. The onion was not the most dangerous vegetable in New Zealand. That crown (pun not intended) goes to…

The pumpkin.

But it was close. According to the ACC figures, there have been 3055 pumpkin-related claims since 2013 — that’s 54 more than the claims relating to onions.

Of those claims, 80% were in the “laceration/puncture/sting” category, with the remainder soft tissue injuries (bruises and the like – imagine dropping one of those buggers on your foot) and “other”. The words ‘bag’, ‘box’, ‘crate’, ‘digging’, ‘harvest’, ‘lift’, ‘pie’, ‘planting’, ‘seed’, ‘soup’ and ‘vine’ were excluded from the search to narrow it down. (Thus excluding injuries such as the one suffered by The Spinoff’s partnerships editor Simon Day, who was once burnt by an exploding blender full of hot pumpkin soup.)

Anyone who’s ever tried to chop up a pumpkin, peel a pumpkin or been in the vicinity of someone attempting those things, however, will be aware of the dangers of the vegetable in its unadulterated form.

First of all, the sheer size of the things is niggly as. Add in the shape – those grooves and ridges are an absolute nightmare – and the smooth, almost slippery skin that encases the rock-hard flesh beneath and it all adds up to DANGER. A moment of lost focus and that knife will slip deep into the soft flesh of your hand before you can say “Peter Peter pumpkin eater”.

I turned to the world wide web to look for concrete examples of pumpkin injuries, and found that in the United States, pumpkin carving accounted for 3200 of the 16,706 Halloween-related injuries treated in U.S. emergency departments in 2017, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

I also looked for advice on how to cut pumpkins safely, but most of what’s available online relates to jack o’ lanterns rather than cooking, so instead I turned to my usual go-to expert source: Ginny Grant, senior food writer at Cuisine magazine.

Her first tip: a sharp knife is essential. If that thing’s blunt, don’t even think about taking it to a pumpkin.

Grant advises starting from the tip of the stem and cutting down through one of the grooves until the halfway point. If it’s cutting easily, carry on the whole way through. If not, pull out the knife (carefully!) and turn the thing upside down, then cut through the same groove to meet your original cut in the middle.

As dangerous as the pumpkin is, there is one 5+ a day staple that we should fear more. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the apple.

Since 2013, there have been 3844 ACC claims for apple-related injuries, with 45% of those soft tissue injuries – presumably a lot of people are hurling apples at each other. Fractions/dislocations accounted for 104, or 2.7%, of claims, which puzzled me. Perhaps apple-picking-related injuries could be to to blame? The word ‘tree’ was excluded from the search that garnered the results, so possibly not.

The bulk of the 1554 claims (40% of the total) in the laceration category can presumably be attributed to coring, chopping, slicin’ and dicin’.

Interestingly, a not insignificant 166 claims, or 4.3% of them, came under the “foreign body in orifice/eye” category. We’ll leave you to speculate, but will note that a source close to The Spinoff has a doctor friend who allegedly once removed a piece of said fruit from a man’s rectum. He claimed to have “slipped and fallen on the fruit bowl”.

Speaking of foreign bodies in orifices (orifii?), may I present to you the most popular foreign-body-in-orifice vegetable on our list – the carrot. There have been 1898 total claims relating to injuries involving carrots since 2013, and 4.74% of those (90) have been under the foreign body in orifice/eye category (the rest follow the pumpkin trend of being largely laceration-related).

The potato was revealed to also be a very real danger, coming in third overall, with 2956 claims, 70% of which came under the laceration category. Of the remainder, 16% were soft tissue injuries (spud gun wounds, maybe?), around 1.4% were orifice related, and a not insignificant 7.6% were burns. Watch out for those hot potatoes! 

Burns also accounted for 3% of the 1330 tomato claims, and there were a handful of chilli burns too. If you’ve ever touched a sensitive area after chopping chilli, you’ll be well aware of the risks – tune in to the next episode of Dietary Requirements for some horror tales on that subject.

What of the much-discussed dangers of attempting to remove an avo stone with a knife? There were 1757 total claims relating to avocado in the period covered, with 78% of them in the laceration category, so it’s evidently a real danger, but pales in comparison to the perils of pumpkin.

There were only 452 banana claims in the period covered, with nearly half of them soft tissue related and the rest lacerations and “other”. One could speculate, and one will, that the bulk of those soft tissue injuries came from slipping on the peel.

Stay safe out there, friends.

*Caveat from ACC: As a no-fault scheme, ACC relies on information recorded by claimants on a claim form following an injury. To answer your request, we used a free-text search for key words recorded in the accident description. However there can be considerable variability in the detail provided by claimants, and for this reason the data should not be presented as definitive.

Keep going!