Food poisoning happens when people consume food that is contaminated with harmful bacteria, parasites, viruses or toxins.
Also known as foodborne illness, it can cause a range of symptoms, most commonly stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and loss of appetite.
Pregnant women, young children, the elderly and people with chronic illnesses have a greater risk of becoming ill with food poisoning.
Certain foods are more likely to cause food poisoning than others, especially if they are improperly stored, prepared or cooked.
Here are the top 9 foods that are most likely to cause food poisoning.
Raw and undercooked poultry such as chicken, duck and turkey has a high risk of causing food poisoning.
This is mainly due to two types of bacteria, Campylobacter and Salmonella, which are commonly found in the guts and feathers of these birds.
These bacteria often contaminate fresh poultry meat during the slaughtering process, and they can survive up until cooking kills them.
To reduce your risk, ensure poultry meat is cooked through completely, do not wash raw meat and ensure that raw meat does not come in contact with utensils, kitchen surfaces, chopping boards and other foods, since this can result in cross-contamination.
VEGETABLES AND LEAFY GREENS:
Vegetables and leafy greens are a common source of food poisoning, especially when eaten raw.
In fact, fruits and vegetables have caused a number food poisoning outbreaks, particularly lettuce, spinach, cabbage, celery and tomatoes.
Contamination can occur from unclean water and dirty runoff, which can leach into the soil that fruits and vegetables are grown in.
To minimize your risk, always wash salad leaves thoroughly before eating. Do not purchase bags of salad mix that contain spoiled, mushy leaves and avoid pre-prepared salads that have been left to sit at room temperature.
FISH AND SHELLFISH:
Fish and shellfish are a common source of food poisoning.
Fish that has not been stored at the correct temperature has a high risk of being contaminated with histamine, a toxin produced by bacteria in fish.
Histamine is not destroyed by normal cooking temperatures and results in a type of food poisoning known as scombroid poisoning. It causes a range of symptoms including nausea, wheezing and swelling of the face and tongue.
Shellfish such as clams, mussels, oysters and scallops also carry a risk of food poisoning. Algae that are consumed by shellfish produce many toxins, and these can build up in the flesh of shellfish, posing danger to humans when they consume the shellfish.
Store-bought shellfish are usually safe to eat. However, shellfish caught from unmonitored areas may be unsafe due to contamination from sewage, stormwater drains and septic tanks.
To reduce your risk, purchase store-bought seafood and ensure you keep it chilled and refrigerated before cooking. Make sure fish is cooked through, and cook clams, mussels and oysters till the shells open. Throw away the shells that don’t open.
Rice is one of the oldest cereal grains and a staple food for more than half the world’s population. However, it is a high-risk food when it comes to food poisoning.
Uncooked rice can be contaminated with spores of Bacillus cereus, a bacterium that produces toxins that cause food poisoning.
These spores can live in dry conditions. For example, they can survive in a package of uncooked rice in your pantry. They can also survive the cooking process.
If cooked rice is left standing at room temperature, these spores grow into bacteria that thrive and multiply in the warm, moist environment. The longer rice is left standing at room temperature, the more likely it will be unsafe to eat.
To reduce your risk, serve rice as soon as it has been cooked and refrigerate leftover rice as quickly as possible after cooking. When reheating cooked rice, make sure it is steaming hot all the way through.
Deli meats including ham, bacon, salami and hot dogs can be a source of food poisoning.
They can become contaminated with harmful bacteria including Listeria and Staphylococcus aureus at several stages during processing and manufacturing.
Contamination can occur directly through contact with contaminated raw meat or by poor hygiene by deli staff, poor cleaning practices and cross-contamination from unclean equipment such as slicer blades.
Of all the deaths caused by Listeria-contaminated deli meats, 83% were caused by deli meat sliced and packaged at deli counters, while 17% were caused by pre-packaged deli meat products.
It is important to note that all meat carries a risk of food poisoning if it is not cooked or stored properly.
Hotdogs, minced meat, sausages and bacon should be cooked thoroughly and should be consumed immediately after being cooked. Sliced lunch meats should be stored in the refrigerator until they are ready to be eaten.
Pasteurization is the process of heating a liquid or food to kill harmful microorganisms.
Food manufacturers pasteurize dairy products including milk and cheese to make them safe to consume. Pasteurization kills harmful bacteria and parasites such as Brucella, Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella.
What’s more, unpasteurized milk is at least 150 times more likely to cause food poisoning and 13 times more likely to result in hospitalization than pasteurized dairy products.
To minimize your risk of food poisoning from unpasteurized dairy, purchase pasteurized products only. Store all dairy at or under 40°F (5°C) and throw out dairy that is past its use-by date.
While eggs are incredibly nutritious and versatile, they can also be a source of food poisoning when they’re consumed raw or undercooked.
This is because eggs can carry Salmonella bacteria, which can contaminate both the eggshell and the inside of the egg.
To reduce your risk, do not consume eggs with a cracked or dirty shell. Where possible, choose pasteurized eggs in recipes that call for raw or lightly cooked eggs.
A number of fruit products including berries, melons and pre-prepared fruit salads have been linked to food poisoning outbreaks.
Fruits grown on the ground such as cantaloupe (rockmelon), watermelon and honeydew melon have a high risk of causing food poisoning due to Listeria bacteria, which can grow on the rind and spread to the flesh.
Cantaloupes accounted for 56% of the outbreaks, watermelons accounted for 38% and honeydew melons accounted for 6%.
Cantaloupe is a particularly high-risk fruit due to its rough, netted skin, which provides protection for Listeria and other bacteria. This makes it difficult to completely remove bacteria, even with cleaning.
Fresh and frozen berries including raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and blueberries are also a common source of food poisoning due to harmful viruses and bacteria, particularly the hepatitis A virus.
The main causes of berry contamination include being grown in contaminated water, poor hygiene practices of berry pickers and cross-contamination with infected berries during processing.
Washing fruit before you eat it can reduce the risks, as can cooking it. If you’re eating melon, make sure to wash the rind. Eat fruit as soon as it’s cut or place it in the fridge. Avoid pre-packaged fruit salads that have not been chilled or stored in a fridge.
Raw sprouts of any kind, including alfalfa, sunflower, mung bean and clover sprouts, are considered to have a high risk of causing food poisoning.
This is mainly due to the presence of bacteria including Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria.
Seeds require warm, moist and nutrient-rich conditions for the sprouts to grow. These conditions are ideal for the rapid growth of bacteria.
Health experts advise that pregnant women avoid consuming any type of raw sprouts. This is because pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to the effects of harmful bacteria.
Fortunately, cooking sprouts helps kill any harmful microorganisms and reduces the risk of food poisoning.
HOW TO REDUCE RISK OF FOOD POISONING:
Here are some simple tips to help minimize your risk of food poisoning:
- Practice good hygiene: Wash your hands with soap and hot water before preparing food. Always wash your hands right after touching raw meat and poultry.
- Avoid washing raw meat and poultry: This does not kill the bacteria — it only spreads it to other foods, cooking utensils and kitchen surfaces.
- Avoid cross-contamination: Use separate chopping boards and knives, especially for raw meat and poultry.
- Don’t ignore the use-by date: For health and safety reasons, foods should not be eaten after their use-by date. Check use-by dates on your food regularly and throw it out once they’ve passed, even if the food looks and smells ok.
- Cook meat thoroughly: Make sure ground meat, sausages and poultry are cooked through to the center. Juices should run clear after cooking.
- Wash fresh produce: Wash leafy greens, vegetables and fruits before eating them, even if they are pre-packaged.
- Keep food at a safe temperature: 40–140°F (5–60°C) is the ideal temperature for the growth of bacteria. Don’t leave leftovers sitting at room temperature. Instead, put them right in the fridge.