The 8 Dirtiest Foods On Grocery Store Shelves

That triple-washed spinach is dirtier than you think. What other dirty foods made the list?

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You eat plenty of vegetables, stick to lean protein such as chicken and turkey, and choose fruit over candy when it’s time for a treat.

Sounds like a pretty clean diet, right? Not necessarily.

Did you know these nutrient-rich items are often the dirtiest foods in the grocery store—and are the cause of an estimated 48 million cases of food poisoning each year in the United States?

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We rounded up the eight dirtiest foods (along with tips for safe consumption so there is no need to ditch your healthy diet).

Poultry and Eggs

Which came first: the chicken or the egg?

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Although scientists and philosophers have long puzzled over this age-old conundrum, what we do know is that both poultry and eggs are two of the dirtiest foods we eat.

Raw chicken, especially from large distributors, can contain harmful bacteria such as Salmonella. This contamination is estimated to cause more than one million cases of food poisoning annually. A lot of this has to do with poultry living conditions on factory farms, where birds are kept in extremely close proximity to one another, allowing bacteria to grow and spread quickly.

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Many people think that looking for poultry labeled “free-range” or “certified organic” means their meat is safe from bacteria, but this isn’t always the case. According to Modern Farmer, pasture-raised poultry has just as much bacteria as birds raised on factory farms.

So how can you safely prepare and consume chicken?

First, don’t rinse raw chicken. This actually raises the risk that bacteria could be spread all over the kitchen. Instead, experts say you should gently wipe the chicken with a paper towel then immediately throw the paper towel away. Heating the chicken to a temperature of 165 degrees is the safest way to kill any bacteria before consumption.

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For many of the same reasons, eggs can also carry harmful Salmonella bacteria. The pasteurization process for eggs has dramatically reduced the number of people infected with salmonella each year, but eggs should still be consumed with caution, especially if they come from a pooled carton.

According to egg experts, eggs should always be refrigerated, cooked all the way through (sorry, sunny-side-up lovers), and eaten immediately after cooking.

Fruit

It turns out nature’s candy isn’t so sweet. Most of the fruit we purchase from the produce section are coated in pesticides. Strawberries, nectarines, apples, peaches, pears, cherries, and grapes are among the most highly contaminated fruits.

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Pesticides are heavily used in commercial fruit production to kill weeds and insects, but because a lot of fruits have porous skins, the pesticides are absorbed straight into the fruit itself. Even after being washed and packaged for purchase, some fruit can contain traces of up to 21 different pesticides.

Although fruits that have been labeled “certified organic” are better options, they’re not 100 percent free of pesticides. Many large organic farms use  “organic” pesticides (as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture).

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Make sure your fruit is pesticide free by soaking it in a solution of white vinegar or lemon juice (both are natural disinfectants) and water for about 20 minutes. Then pat it dry with paper towels before storing.

Deli Meat

Before you grab your ticket at the deli counter, you might want to consider that cold cuts such as roast beef and ham can carry bacteria that cause listeriosis.

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Listeria, unlike most other bacteria, can grow in cold temperatures, which is why it is usually found at the deli counter. Listeria can also be found in prepackaged deli meat, often contaminated at the processing facility.

Listeriosis can cause flu-like symptoms and can be especially dangerous for pregnant women.

You don’t have to give up your lunchtime staple just yet. Pasteurization kills most bacteria in cold cuts, and there are other precautions you can take before consumption.

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Use fresh deli meats within five to six days of purchase. The prepackaged kind will usually last a little longer, about two weeks. Keep deli meat refrigerated until ready to use. When in doubt, heat deli meat to a temperature of 165 degrees to kill any bacteria.

During pregnancy, women should either avoid deli meat as a precaution or make sure the meat is heated to steaming before consumption.

Raw Milk and Cheese

Milk straight from the source sounds refreshing, but there is a reason dairy products are pasteurized in the United States. Raw dairy products like milk and cheese can contain harmful bacteria like Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli.

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Pasteurization kills harmful bacteria by slowly heating milk to a safe temperature. In 1987, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandated that all milk products be pasteurized for consumption in the United States, but over time, several states have lifted restrictions to allow the sale of raw milk.

Soft cheeses like Brie are also unpasteurized. These unpasteurized cheese products are banned from import into the United States, but American cheesemakers continue to produce unpasteurized soft cheeses.

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If you do decide to consume raw milk or cheese, take precautions to make sure your dairy is bacteria free.

First, purchase milk or cheese from a Raw Milk Institute (RAWMI) provider. RAWMI ensures that listed farms follow safe milk production guidelines to prevent contamination. Safely drink raw milk by using it within one to three days of purchase. Cheeses shouldn’t be frozen, but freezing milk for at least two weeks before you consume it kills much of the bacteria that could be hiding out in raw milk.

Raw Oysters

They’re salty, slimy, and downright delicious, but raw oysters can pose serious health concerns.

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Oysters are filter feeders and can clean between 30 and 50 gallons of water a day. This is great for the environment, but unfortunately, it’s also the way people get sick from eating oysters.

That’s because oysters can get infected with Vibrio vulnificus. This may sound like a spell Harry Potter would cast, but Vibrio vulnificus is actually a bacterium that is found in seawater and can cause food poisoning.

Cooking oysters is the safest way to consume them, but if you must eat them raw, only purchase raw oysters from a licensed, reputable dealer who legally harvests them.

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Because raw oysters are consumed while the mollusk is technically still alive, the shell of good oysters will be tightly closed. If the shell is slightly open, tap on it with your finger. If it closes, the oyster is still good to eat. If it remains open, the oyster is not safe for eating and may contain harmful bacteria.

Leafy Greens

It’s recommended that people get at least three to four servings of leafy greens per day, but your salad may not be safe to eat. Leafy greens, like fruit, can contain high amounts of pesticides and bacteria.

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Spinach is the worst culprit and was shown to have more pesticide residue per pound than any other produce. It is second only to strawberries on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list.

Bacteria can also survive the factory cleaning process because spinach leaves contain so many folds and contours that only about 15 percent of the leaf is actually exposed to disinfectant.

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Even if you purchase prepackaged greens that say they’ve been “triple-washed,” you should always rinse your greens at home before using them in a salad. As with most foods on this list, however, the safest way to consume spinach is to cook it first.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Katie Martin
Katie Martin
Contributing Writer