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Top 10 Riskiest Foods

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The Centers for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) released a report listed the top 10 "riskiest" foods that are regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). CSPI claims that these 10 foods accounted for nearly 1000 disease outbreaks since 1990 in the United States. These 10 foods are also responsible, according to CSPI, for over 40% of all food-borne outbreaks among FDA-regulated foods.

You may be surprised that many of the foods that are "risky" are also healthy. Just because something has a lot of nutritional value doesn't mean it can't carry some risk to you. "Risky" in this list refers to food contaminants that can make you sick.

  1. Leafy greens. Spinach, kale, romaine, etc. These are grown close to the ground and often fertilized with manure. Water runoff from farms, and poor handling can all cause contamination with E. coli, Norovirus, or Salmonella.
  2. Eggs. We know eating undercooked eggs can cause Salmonella contamination. To be safe, cook your eggs well and don't eat raw eggs (think cookie dough!!!).
  3. Tuna. Tuna is often served raw or undercooked and can carry risk, specifically of scombrotoxin. This toxin can cause heart palpitations and loss of vision.
  4. Oysters. Raw oysters always carry the warning statement because of the risk of Vibrio vulnificus bacteria.
  5. Potatoes. I was shocked at this one. It makes sense when you think about how potatoes are grown in the ground and have similar risk to leafy greens. Scrub the outside well or avoid eating the peel. Also, wash the cutting board after they have touched it before you use it with other foods.
  6. Cheese. Cheese can be a concern if it is not pasteurized. Some soft cheeses are not pasteurized. Read labels to make sure.
  7. Sprouts. I can't look at sprouts without thinking of food borne illness. I haven't eaten them in years (I have been pregnant or nursing for years now!). They carry a high risk of infection because they are seeds that are kept in warm and humid environments and are difficult to clean because they are so delicate.
  8. Tomatoes. Again, grown close to the ground. Wash very thoroughly.
  9. Berries. They are handled quite a bit by pickers and bacteria is difficult to get at with the small openings in the fruit.
  10. Ice cream. The main culprit here is raw eggs and unpasteurized milk. The concern was more for homemade ice cream where people may be using their own raw eggs. Major brand store bought ice cream is not a concern.

Tips for preventing illness:
  • Wash ALL produce well: organic produce often has higher contamination risk due to using manure as fertilizer. Even if you purchase prewashed greens or other produce, wash it again before use.
  • Wash cutting boards after each new food. We used to just recommend washing the cutting board so meat and veggies don't share the same board. However, the contamination from the outside of potatoes could contaminate your asparagus if the cutting board isn't washed with hot soapy water in between.
  • Wash hands (sound familiar??). Wash under hot water with soap for 30 seconds or more.
  • Cook all foods to steaming hot and/or above 160 degrees.
  • Cool promptly. Get food back in the fridge as soon as possible. Food at room temperature is a breeding ground for bacteria.
For more tips, visit www.foodsafety.gov
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About the Author


MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N

Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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