Most of us live in relatively ignorant bliss when it comes to our food. We know that eating from the salad bar of a seedy looking joint is iffy and that dining on say, sushi from a fast food place is probably not a good idea. But the truth is, we don’t really know what happens to our food before it’s presented to us.
Studies show that 76 million people are affected by food illness every year, with 5,000 of them dying from it. Meat and beef top the list of foods with the highest chance of food poisoning, but there are more culprits.
Why do people get sick from their food? Bacteria and viruses are the most common reason. These microbial agents get into and sit on top of food particles that we eat, making us sick.
Parasites are another reason that people get sick from their food. These minuscule organisms get nourishment from the hosts that they attach themselves onto, causing us to ingest them and in turn, get ill.
Mold, toxins, and other contaminants also make the list for reasons for getting sick, but these are low on the food poisoning chain. Overall, most experts agree that proper hygiene and handling of food can help to avoid contamination and reduce cases of food-borne illness.
Think you’re safe out there? Attorney Bill Marler, who has been working on food poisoning cases for over 20 years, says you need to be careful! After working on hundreds of cases with people who have gotten severely ill, he has a lot to say on the subject. Check out this list of things this food poisoning expert would never, ever eat.
Pre-cut fruit seems like a great idea, in theory. You get delightfully sliced pieces of perfectly ripened fruit filled with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. What more could a person on the go need? However, Marler says that he avoids pre-cut fruit “like the plague.”
According to him, the amount that the fruit gets handled and processed increases the chances that it will be contaminated. He apparently is right because, according to statistics, pre-cut fruit is tenth on the list of top foods that cause food poisoning.
Marler suggests that you eat the whole fruit instead, and within a few days of the purchase. This will help you to avoid dreaded listeria, a food-borne, disease-causing bacteria that grows in the temperature of your refrigerator, and can cause gastrointestinal issues, problems with the nervous system, and possibly meningitis or encephalitis.
Although Marler acknowledges that pre-cut produce is easy, he believes that the added convenience is not worth the risk.
You may be adding raw sprouts to your sandwiches and salads to get an extra dose of healthy in but studies show that they may harm you more than help. In the past 20 years, over 30 reported illness outbreaks resulted from sprout consumption, with salmonella and E.coli being the most responsible agents of bacteria.
In 2014, 19 people were hospitalized with salmonella poisoning from eating sprouts. Marler warns that there have been too many outbreaks to not pay attention to the risks associated with eating sprouts.
Even the government cites this warning on their website: “Children, the elderly, pregnant women, and persons with weakened immune systems should avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind (including alfalfa, clover, radish, and mung bean sprouts). Cook sprouts thoroughly to reduce the risk of illness. Cooking kills the harmful bacteria.”
Even though much has changed in the way of the handling and processing of eggs nowadays, it wasn’t long ago that people were getting sick from raw eggs. In the early '80s and '90s, salmonella was an epidemic from raw eggs; in 2010, over 2,000 cases of salmonella contamination were reported from eggs.
Salmonella is found both inside and outside the shells of eggs. Symptoms of salmonella poisoning include cramps, diarrhea, and fever that can last up to a week. Infectious disease experts recommend keeping eggs refrigerated until they’re ready to prepared.
Cooking them (properly) limits the growth of bacteria, and reduces the chance of salmonella poisoning. Eggs might be a perfect protein when cooked properly, but Marler won’t eat them runny or raw.
Unpasteurized Milk and Juices
Pasteurization removes some of the nutrients in juice and milk and that doesn’t bode well with the super-health-conscious crowd. As a result, the consumption of raw milk and juice has become increasingly more popular.
Marler argues that there’s no benefit that would be compelling enough to take away the risk of drinking products that are made safe by pasteurization. Since pasteurization is an important safety procedure that eliminates beverages of harmful parasites, bacteria, and viruses, it would be irresponsible to risk possible infection for a couple of more nutrients.
In 1996, Marler fought for several children against the popular beverage company Odwalla, because they had developed developed a serious affliction called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), from drinking unpasteurized apple juice. HUS is caused by E.coli and is linked to anemia and kidney failure.
Ultimately, Odwalla was held responsible and had to pay a $1.5 million fine, and another $12 million to the victims.
Although a fancy delicacy, rare steak (and other kinds of beef) carry with them a host of food-borne issues and Marler recommends steering clear of meat that is cooked rare.
He suggests that steak should only be consumed if it’s medium well or more well, in order to kill the bacteria that causes E. coli and salmonella. It may not be the most delicious way to eat a steak, but Marler says the risks outweigh the tasty reward. Other experts caution that red meat needs to be cooked to 160 degrees in order to be safe.
Marler also warns that ground products (like hamburgers and meatloaf) need to be cooked even more thoroughly because bacteria that sits on the surface of the meat is often ground inside of it—making food poisoning a higher probability.
Most people know that oysters are not the cleanest of food choicest, but often people don’t realize why. Oysters filter feed which means they eat (and hold on to) everything that’s in the water—and we mean everything.
Bacteria that is often present in the water gets into their bodies and stays there. When you eat raw oysters, you ingest this bacteria and it can cause you to be severely ill. Marler says that he has seen many more issues with the consumption of raw oysters over the last five years as compared to 20 years ago. He believes that warmer water temperatures are to blame.
Higher water temperatures mean more microbial growth, which means more cases of food-borne illness. In order for an oyster to be safe from bacteria and viruses, it must be cooked thoroughly. This reduces the risk of food-borne illness, but doesn’t eliminate it altogether.
Infectious disease experts warn that older individuals, children, and those with compromised immune systems should avoid eating raw oysters altogether.