This Food Poisoning Expert Revealed The 6 Things He Refuses To Eat

You’ll think twice before ever eating these foods again—but at least you can enjoy these tasty, safer alternatives.

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This article was updated on Oct. 23, 2018.

Most of us live in relatively ignorant bliss when it comes to our food. We know that we shouldn’t eat from the salad bar of a seedy motel, for instance, and that we’re better off avoiding fast-food sushi.

Ultimately, however, we don’t really know what happens to our food before it’s presented to us.

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Studies show that 76 million people are affected by food illness every year. Those illnesses can be caused by bacteria, viruses, molds, and even parasites—and in some cases, the symptoms are life-threatening.

Food poisoning attorney Bill Marler has seen just about everything. He has represented clients in some of the biggest food safety cases on record, and over time, his professional life has shaped his food preferences.

“I have a different relationship with food because of my profession.”

—Bill Marler

In early 2016, Marler compiled a list of six foods that he never eats (although, as we’ll explain shortly, he’s taken occasional liberties with one of those foods). The article quickly went viral, which didn’t surprise the attorney.

“I get asked a lot about what foods I stay away from,” Marler explains to HealthyWay. “It was one of those kind of things where I finally decided to just put them [together], and I came up with six.”

But while Marler thought that the piece would do well, he might not have anticipated its reach.

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“My daughter called me and said, ‘Dad, you’re trending [online],'” he recalls. “It was the first time she actually thought I was interesting!”

We spoke with Marler to review the original list—and to find out whether he’s really serious about some of these. Then we consulted with registered dietitian nutritionist Kelsey Peoples of The Peoples Plate to get advice on alternative options that are, well, way less likely to give you food poisoning.

Like Marler, Peoples’ education and profession (she has a master’s in nutrition and food science and a background in health research and clinical nutrition) mean she knows a thing or two about what you should—and shouldn’t—be putting on your plate.

1. The first item isn’t exactly a hard one to pass up…

What’s healthier than raw sprouts? They’re a great addition to any sandwich, right?

Not quite. In the past 20 years, over 30 reported illness outbreaks resulted from sprout consumption, including numerous cases of poisoning from Salmonella and E. coli bacteria.

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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.

The U.S. government’s consumer food safety website, Foodsafety.gov, includes this warning: “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).”

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Of course, the site also notes that cooking the sprouts kills the harmful bacteria, so if you prefer your bean sprouts cooked, you’ve got nothing to worry about.

Plus, sprouts are, well, kind of gross, so we don’t really mind avoiding them.

Here’s what you should eat instead…

“Fresh sprouts do add nice flavor and crunch to sandwiches and salads,” says Peoples, “but the moist environment of a bundle of sprouts is a great breeding ground for bacteria. For similar crunch with less risk, just start with a head of iceberg lettuce or cabbage and finely chop.”

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© Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

For a finer, more spout-like shred on your lettuce or cabbage of choice, you could cut it up with kitchen shears or get fancy (and extra fine) with a pair of herb scissors.

2. Marler admits to cheating on this one.

This one isn’t so much about the food as the way it’s prepared.

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.

However, in his original article, Marler wrote that he avoids pre-cut fruit “like the plague.”

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As Marler wrote, the extra handling and processing increases the chances that the fruit will be contaminated. According to the Australian Institute of Food Safety, pre-cut fruit is one of the most common foods associated with foodborne illnesses.

Still, Marler admits that he doesn’t exactly avoid cut fruits “like the plague.” He was using a bit of hyperbole to get his point across.

“If I’m traveling or looking for a quick lunch, sometimes it’s just too convenient,” he says.

Here’s what you should eat instead…

Marler and People’s agree: You should try to eat whole fruits instead of anything pre-cut. Marler says it’ll help you avoid Listeria, a bacterium that can cause gastrointestinal and nervous system issues.

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Why’s that? “So many fruits come with their own protective barrier—bananas, oranges, kiwi, grapefruit,” explains Peoples, “so take advantage of those whole fruits when trying to avoid contamination. If you want pre-cup options, commercially processed canned fruits are still an option, but choose varieties packed in fruit juice instead of syrups and drain out the liquid to avoid excess added sugars.”

See? Even the professionals acknowledge that you’ve got options for getting your fruit fix—without a side of food poisoning.

3. Ready for a healthy breakfast? Well…sorry in advance.

This one might be hard for some people to stomach; we can’t imagine asking for our eggs over-hard.

Though there have been recent changes to the way eggs are handled and processed, it wasn’t long ago that people were getting sick from raw eggs. Eggs cooked incorrectly can still pose some health risks. To learn what to watch for, check out the video below.

A representative of Foodsafety.gov tells HealthyWay that eggs pose a particularly significant risk to immunocompromised people, and consumers need to understand that risk before partaking.

Here’s what you should eat instead…

Peoples agrees that to minimize your risk of foodborne illness, you need to cook your eggs all the way through. She says scrambled and hard boiled eggs pose a much lower risk than any runny eggs.

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She also shares that, “for some immunocompromised individuals, the safest option may be to try pasteurized liquid eggs, egg whites, or egg beater alternatives. Whites and beaters are also incredibly low in cholesterol, which is a benefit for those with any history of cardiovascular disease.”

4. This food trend might seem healthy, but that’s not the case.

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, raw milk and juices have become more popular over the past few years, despite warnings from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

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Marler argues that there’s no benefit compelling enough to minimize the risks involved with these drinks. Since pasteurization is an important safety procedure that eliminates harmful parasites, bacteria, and viruses from beverages, it would be irresponsible to risk possible infection for a couple of extra nutrients.

Of course, his opinion is informed by his casework. In 1996, Marler fought for several children against the popular beverage company Odwalla. One client 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.

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Ultimately, Odwalla was held responsible and had to pay a $1.5 million fine and another $12 million to the victims.

Here’s what you should drink instead…

“Although a fresh farm-made juice may sound delicious, it just isn’t worth the risk,” says peoples. “I always recommend choosing pasteurized products.”

She also shares this word of caution, which is especially important in light of the raw, unpasteurized juice = a healthy pour misconception:

Even 100 percent fresh fruit juice is an incredibly high source of sugar … an eight-ounce glass has as many grams of carbohydrates as two pieces of bread. I highly recommend diluting it with water to avoid blood sugar spikes, or better yet, choose fresh whole fruit instead.

5. We’ve got bad news for meat eaters.

Although something of a delicacy, rare steak (and other kinds of beef) carry with them a host of potential foodborne pathogens, including Listeria, Salmonella, and E. coli. Marler recommends steering clear of meat that is cooked rare.

He suggests that steak should only be consumed if it’s medium-well or well done, which should kill the harmful bacteria.

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It may not be the most delicious way to eat a steak, but Marler says the risks outweigh the rewards. The FDA cautions that red meat needs to be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit (160 degrees for ground meats) in order to be safe.

Ground meat products (like hamburgers and meatloaf) need to be cooked even more thoroughly since bacteria that sit on the surface of the meat are often ground into it.

Still, we had to ask: Does he really order all of his steaks well done? Yes, although he recalled one meal in which a restaurant confused his order with his colleague’s.

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“They switched the order, and I quickly looked at his steak and my steak and realized it,” Marler recalls. “We had to switch them back.”

Here’s what you should eat instead…

“If you can’t imagine eating a well-done beef burger, why not try an alternative version?” asks Peoples.

“Chicken and turkey burgers can be juicy and flavorful while being much leaner than most beef burgers, which is a perk for anyone looking to minimize their saturated fat intake. Vegetarian and vegan options are a fantastic way to get extra nutrients,” she says.

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“Try grilling a portobello mushroom as your patty, buy a more traditional ‘veggie burger’ made from a blend of vegetables and whole grains, or opt for one of the newest commercial faux meat options like The Better Burger, which is being praised as the most meat-like vegetarian burger ever invented.”

You’ll have something to put on your bun, and you can top it with your condiments of choice rather than worry about a stomach bug tomorrow.

6. But Marler received the most complaints for this final item.

Most people know that oysters are not the cleanest food available, 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.

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When you eat raw oysters, you ingest their bacteria (somewhat obviously). 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, and he believes that warmer water temperatures are to blame.

Why? Well, higher water temperatures mean more microbial growth, which means more cases of foodborne illness. In order for an oyster to be safe from bacteria and viruses, it must be cooked thoroughly. That reduces the risk of an illness but doesn’t eliminate it altogether.

“We’re starting to see more cases [involving oysters],” Marler says, noting that, despite the pushback from his friends on the East Coast, he wouldn’t take the mollusks off of his list.

Here’s what you should eat instead…

There’s something très chic about knocking back oysters in good company, but Peoples says “any raw shellfish comes with a higher risk of foodborne illness.”

So what’s a gourmand to do? People’s suggestions: “Cooked alternatives like shrimp cocktail, crab cocktail, or baked clams are just as glamorous with far lower risk.”

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And don’t forget that fried oysters are fair game. BRB—we’re headed to Sir Cricket’s for the best fried oysters on the cape (of Cod)—and Marler better not try to stop us!

So, would Marler make any changes to this list?

Nope. He says that while he’s seen contamination with specific brands, he doesn’t think he’d make any additions.

“There’ve been lots of outbreaks linked to, for example, soy nut butter,” Marler says. “But [the list] includes things that, historically, in my experience, have been much more risky. They involve products that don’t have a ‘kill’ step—they’re not cooked.”

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He also says that while he’s fairly strict about his own diet, he doesn’t ask his friends to order differently at restaurants.

“Most people know what I do, and they either don’t care or they change their order,” Marler says with a laugh. “I have a different relationship with food because of my profession.”

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