Now that that the savvy consumer has learned how to watch their weight, cholesterol and sodium intake, there’s a new list of the top 10 riskiest foods to eat that are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In 2009, the The Center for Science in the Public Interest, regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, highlighted more than 1,500 separate outbreaks of 50,000 illnesses with effects that ranged from simple gastrointestinal distress to disability and death since 1990.
Leafy greens—which includes iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, leaf lettuce, butter lettuce, baby leaf lettuce, escarole, endive, spring mix, spinach, cabbage, kale, arugula and chard—were responsible to sickening over 13,568 people. The primary offender in 2006 was E. coli, followed by Norovirus and Salmonella.
The food that has often been labeled as the perfect breakfast has sickened over 11,000 people between 1990 and 2006. The chief offender was salmonella that lives in the intestinal tracts of birds and gets transmitted to humans after eating eggs. Half of all of outbreaks occur in restaurants, where proper egg handling procedures were not followed. The next most common source of egg outbreaks was in U.S. prisons, followed by large catered events.
While many consumers are wary about eating fish due to mercury poisoning, few are aware of scombroid, and illness caused by scombrotoxin in tuna dishes that affected more than 2,300 people in the study. After being caught, fish begins to release natural toxins if not stored at 60 degrees F or below. The toxin is not affected by cooking, freezing, smoking, curing or canning and usually results in the afflicted with skin flushing, headaches, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, heart palpitations and loss of vision. It is currently being monitored by the FDA’s Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points.
The primary source of oyster-related outbreaks is restaurants, where more than 2,000 were reported during the study. Illnesses are caused by Norovirus and Vibrio. Illnesses related to Norovirus is usually associated with improper food handling and contaminated waters leading to gastroenteritis. However, Vibrio is considered much worse. Vibrio’s hazards stem from a similar bacterium as cholera. If stricken, bacterium can circulate through the victim’s bloodstream causing fever, chills, septic shock and bloodstream infections.
More than 40 percent of outbreaks associated with potatoes originate in supermarkets or delis. Grown in the soil, potatoes are almost always cooked and used in dishes like potato salad that can contain a broad range of pathogens, including salmonella and E. coli. Shigella and Listeria monocytogenes also appear and are associated with improper food handling.
Cheese was linked to 83 outbreaks that have sickened thousands of people. Cheese can become contaminated through several phases of production: curdling, molding and salting or later during processing. Pregnant women should be particularly careful about eating soft cheeses (brie, feta or Mexican-style) because of the risk of Listeria.
Since 1990, more than 75 outbreaks of salmonella poisoning have occurred in all types of ice cream. The largest outbreak occurred in 1994 when a popular ice cream manufacturer used the same truck to haul raw, unpasteurized eggs and ice cream pre-mix that resulted in Salmonella spreading through the plant. Soft ice cream appears to be the most susceptible to contamination, where Listeria can cling to hard metal surfaces.
Whether you’re referring to reds, rounds, Romas or grape tomatoes, all forms have been linked to food-borne illnesses, largely through Salmonella. Salmonella enters the plants through the roots or through small cracks in the skin. Once inside, Salmonella spreads rapidly throughout the tomato.
Both raw and lightly cooked sprouts have been recognized by the FDA a source of food-borne illnesses since the 1990s. The most likely source of contamination is the seeds that are used to grow sprouts, along with improper handling and storage. Since 1990, 25 outbreaks of Salmonella and E. coli have been linked to sprouts.
Raspberries, blackberries and some or our other favorite berries have caused more than 25 outbreaks with 3,300 illnesses since 1990. In 1997, more than 2.6 million lbs. of contaminated strawberries were recalled after students across several states were infected with hepatitis A. cycospora has also been carried across five states through berries that results in dehydration and stomach cramps.