Here Are the Foods That Safety Experts Want You to Stay Away From

In Depth

Ever wondered which foods are most likely to kill you due to bacterial infection? While basically no one should be shocked by “undercooked meat,” some of the others are actually kind of surprising.

These answers come to us courtesy of USA Today, which interviewed several food safety experts about which foods are and are not a gamble for your health. Let’s dig in, shall we?

As numerous experts point out, the color of meat is significantly less important than the temperature; meat needs to be cooked to 160 degrees to kill off germs, and well done burgers and steaks aren’t really any less likely to harbor bacteria if they weren’t cooked to a high enough temperature.* So, basically, all of the “red meat shouldn’t have pink/blood in it because that’s dangerous” people are talking out of their asses, and you can still get sick from a well done steak. Maybe most interestingly, washing chicken and red meat actually helps spread bacteria.

The least shocking entry on the list is probably raw shellfish such as oysters, specifically because of a bacterium called Vibrio vulnificus which can attack a person’s liver and stomach. We’re just going to pretend that’s why I can’t stand them, rather than the fact that they’re essentially enshelled wads of oceanic mucus. Anyway, one thing the USA Today article doesn’t note is that Vibrio is actually only found in saltwater, so freshwater oysters are at least nominally less dangerous than those from coastal areas.

Also not shocking: unpasteurized milk is apparently a really bad idea. The unpasteurized milk craze has been a part of the “back to nature” or “raw” or “fucking stupid” food trend in recent years, but apparently it’s one of the most dangerous things you can eat. The CDC in particular is really, really passionate about the dangers of unpasteurized milk, pointing out that prior to the advent of pasteurization (which actually doesn’t adversely affect the nutritional content of milk), people used to boil milk before giving it to kids. Considering the overlap between the unpasteurized milk people and the lunatic anti-vaxxer crowd, I’m pretty sure the CDC knows what it’s talking about here.

One entry that seems superficially surprising is bean sprouts…until you realize that people within the food industry and health departments have been sounding the drum about bean sprouts for years. The first issue is that most dishes involving sprouts serve them raw, a fact the USA Today article notes. Another problem it doesn’t list, however, is that the porous nature of sprouts actually makes them more difficult to wash, and since they need humid conditions to grow in the first place, bacteria like E. Coli, Listeria, and Salmonella find them an easy breeding ground. Among fruits and vegetables, bean sprouts are actually potentially the single most dangerous, according to the CDC.

Also dangerous, though: canteloupes. Canteloupe skins apparently soak up bacteria more easily than other melons, and when you cut into them, it exposes the edible part of the fruit to that lovely microbiological cocktail.

It’s worth noting that any food CAN be dangerous, as bacteria can live anywhere — some foods are just more likely to suffer from issues than others. Improprieties in not just cooking, but also treatment and storage, can have hugely detrimental effects on whether or not food will make you sick. Still, it’s always good to know what foods are bigger potential risk factors.

*In general, steaks are significantly less likely to harbor bacteria than burgers, since in ground meat, every portion of the meat has been exposed to the environment pre-cooking (as opposed to steak, where only the outside has).

Image via DomDew_Studio/Shutterstock.

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