Food related illnesses have been becoming more and more frequent with recalls left and right. Many people have become sick before each outbreak has been caught and the food is recalled and, even then, consumers can’t monitor every single recall that is announced. This makes it very difficult to prepare for.
The best way to prepare for food related illnesses is to avoid them with proper handling and preparation and education. This article is about the top 10 foods that might make you sick but, know that these are just 10 of the top foods that might make you sick. They are listed from most to least contaminated. There are many more foods but, generally, the safety measures are still similar.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is a nonprofit organization in Washington, DC. that was created in 1971 inform the public of nutrition and safety issues related to food.
The CSPI recently issued its report about the top 10 FDA-regulated foods that have been deemed the cause of illness outbreaks in the United States between 1990 and 2006 with references to post-2006 outbreaks and regulations. Since 1990, these top 10 FDA-regulated foods account for about 40% of all food outbreaks, causing over 1500 outbreaks with about 50,000 illnesses.
Salads are widely popular at home, in restaurants and even schools and include greens, such as lettuce, escarole, endive, spinach, cabbage, kale, arugula, and chard. The CSPI reports that they have caused 363 outbreaks, causing 13,568 illnesses. They account for 24% of the outbreaks in this list of 10.
Most of these outbreaks occur because of improper handling and preparation due to lack of hand washing and cross-contamination from other foods. Once leafy greens are contaminated, the contamination can be easily spread.
In 2006, there was a large outbreak with bagged spinach contaminated with E. coli and resulted in several deaths and hundreds of illnesses. Also in 2006, several dozen consumers were infected by iceberg lettuce served at Taco John’s fast food restaurants. Other viruses found to infect leafy greens include the Norovirus, spread through unwashed hands, and Salmonella.
Prevent infection by thoroughly washing greens and avoid cross-contamination by washing hands and using separate cutting surfaces when switching.
(Herbs, like cilantro or parsley, are not included.)
Millions of eggs are eaten each day for breakfast and throughout the day. CSPI reports that eggs have caused 352 outbreaks, half of which occurred in restaurants.
Contaminated eggs are usually infected with Salmonella. They can be contaminated through the feces of animals on the outside of the eggs, which is less of a problem today due to newer regulations, and, even more so, through the ovaries of infected hens.
Thoroughly cooking eggs generally kills all the germs but raw or runny eggs are very unsafe. One other thing that people often forget is that eggs left out at room temperature, such as breakfast buffets, allows bacteria to grow and spread.
Tuna is a popular fish, fresh or canned, in sandwiches, salads and more. Warnings about mercury are not the only things to be concerned about with tuna. CSPI reports of tuna causing 268 outbreaks affecting over 2300 people since 1990, 60% took place in restaurants.
Freshly caught tuna stored above 60°F can quickly decay and release scombrotoxin, which is dangerous to humans and can cause scombroid with multiple symptoms including, flushing, headaches, cramps, nausea, diarrhea, heart palpitations and loss of vision. Scombrotoxin cannot be destroyed by cooking, freezing, smoking, curing or canning. Most, but not all, cases of scombroid with infected tuna are due to fresh, not canned tuna. Tuna may also be infected with the Norovirus or Salmonella.
Properly storing tuna at the time they are caught is the only way to completely avoid contamination. Cooking can remove some but not all contaminants. Basically you will always be taking a risky chance whenever you eat tuna, especially fresh.
Oysters are no longer expensive delicacies, they are becoming more popular everywhere. CSPI reports contaminated oysters causing 2000 illnesses, most in restaurants.
Oysters are often infected with Vibrio or the norovirus before they are even harvested and not just through improper handling. Vibrio, in the cholera family, can cause severe illness, especially people with weak immune systems or, if it gets into the bloodstream, it can cause fever, septic shock (low blood pressure) and blisters — with a 50% fatality rate.
Raw or undercooked oysters can cause gastroenteritis, which is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines.
To avoid illness, try to only eat fully cooked oysters.
Potatoes are eaten by most people several times a week, probably more than any other vegetable. Unbeknownst to most people, potatoes have caused 108 outbreaks with over 3600 illnesses, 40% from restaurants, supermarkets and delis.
Properly cleaned and cooked potatoes rarely cause illness. The major problem stems from undercooked potatoes in dishes like potato salad, in which there can be cross-contamination from other ingredients in the dish or from raw meat.
Contaminated potatoes are most often infected with viruses, such as E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, which thrives in kitchen areas and deli counters, and Shigella, which spreads by infected people,
To avoid illness, thoroughly clean and cook potatoes before eating and avoid cross-contamination with other foods.
Cheese is hugely popular and used in innumerable recipes except by people who are lactose intolerant, in which case cheese is doubly dangerous. Cheese has caused 83 outbreaks with thousands of illnesses, mostly in private homes.
Cheese can be contaminated during production or processing. Today, most cheese is made with pasteurized milk but some cheese, such as Mexican-style cheese, is still made with unpasteurized milk, which is vastly more unsafe.
Cheese is most often contaminated with Salmonella or Listeria, which can cause miscarriages. Unheated soft cheeses, like feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined, and Mexican style cheese, are more often contaminated with Listeria, which can cause pregnant women to miscarriage even if they don’t experience any other symptoms. It is also dangerous to people with weak immune systems, people undergoing chemotherapy and the elderly because they can cause serious illness and even death.
To avoid illness, try to avoid soft cheeses, cheese made with unpasteurized milk, and unheated cheese whenever possible.
Ice cream is one of America’s comfort foods that seems too fun to cause serious illness. It has caused 75 outbreaks, half in private homes due to the raw eggs used in homemade ice cream.
The most common contaminates of ice cream are the Salmonella and Staphylococcus bacteria.
In 1994, a large outbreak occurred due to an ice cream manufacturer shipped its ice cream premix in the same truck that carried raw eggs without pasteurizing it again. People in 41 states were infected by Salmonella from the ice cream.
Soft ice cream is more conducive to being contaminated by Listeria, which can survive longer than other contaminants, especially on less cold or metal surfaces. If one batch of ice cream is contaminated, it will probably need to all successive batches being contaminated. As stated before, Listeria is dangerous to pregnant women and people with weak immune systems, so they should avoid soft ice cream as much as possible.
To avoid illness, avoid ice cream made with unpasteurized milk or raw eggs and limit eating soft ice cream, especially those people that are more susceptible to infection.
Tomatoes are an essential ingredient in sandwiches, Italian and Mexican food alike. They have caused 31 outbreaks, 70% in restaurants.
Over half of the outbreaks with tomatoes are caused by Salmonella, which can infect tomatoes through their roots, flowers, cracks in their skin, stems or the tomatoes themselves.
Cooking tomatoes is the only surefire way of destroying the Salmonella. They can also be infected by the Norovirus.
Other than cooking, to prevent illness, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after handling produce and wash the produce right before eating or cooking.
Sprouts are generally considered a very healthy food that is full of nutrients and virtually fat-free. They have been the cause of 31 outbreaks.
Sprouts are most often contaminated with Salmonella and E. coli, so anyone susceptible to infection including, elderly, children and people with compromised immune systems, should avoid eating raw sprouts.
Sprout seeds can be infected in the fields where they grow or in storage under humid conditions required for the sprouts to grow and, which, in turn, also help bacteria grow on the sprouts. Improper handling during production has also been attributed to some outbreaks.
To avoid illness, try to eat cooked sprouts, especially if you are in an illness-prone group.
Berries of all types, such as strawberries and raspberries, are used as popular and healthy desserts. They have caused 25 outbreaks with over 3300 illnesses.
In 1997, thousands of U.S. students became sick with Hepatitis A from frozen strawberries in their lunches. It was attributed to an infected farm worker in Mexico. Also in 1997, raspberries from Guatemala and Chile caused outbreaks of Cyclospora in 5 states.
Cyclospora infects the intestines and causes severe diarrhea, dehydration, and cramps. Antibiotics are required to recover from it.
To avoid illness, thoroughly wash the berries and cook them whenever possible. If an illness does begin, seek a doctor to receive antibiotics.
Source: Center for Science in the Public Interest