10 Causes Of Food Poisoning That Might Shock You

By Marisa Ramiccio. May 7th 2016

It seems like every couple of months an outbreak of food poisoning occurs somewhere in the United States. Due to unsafe handling practices or contamination from animals, one food or another becomes tainted with bacteria or a virus that causes a number of people to become ill. But some foods tend to cause more outbreaks than others. If you’re curious as to which foods are the most common causes of food poisoning, read on. You may be surprised by what makes the list.

1. Undercooked Meat And Poultry

The next time you have a steak for dinner, you may want to order it well-done. Eating undercooked meat, or poultry for that matter, is a sure-fire way to contract food poisoning. Raw meat and poultry contains bacteria like E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter, so if your steak or chicken is undercooked, you could consume these or other bacteria. This can be especially dangerous for young children, the elderly and women who are pregnant as they have weakened immune systems.

If you’re cooking a steak, pork or roast, make sure the internal temperature reaches at least 145 degrees. For ground meats, cook them to 160 degrees and cook ground poultry to 165 degrees. All other poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees.

2. Raw Oysters

Like undercooked meat and poultry, you also have to be careful about consuming raw or undercooked seafood, especially raw oysters. Oysters can carry a bacteria known as Vibrio vulnificus, which is transferred through seawater. They can also carry viruses such as Norovirus and Hepatitis A. Oysters, as well as clams and mussels, should be cooked until their shells open. If an oyster’s shell doesn’t open after cooking, throw it away.

3. Tuna

Fresh tuna fish can sometimes contain scombroid toxins, which cause scombroid illness. Symptoms of scombroid illness include nausea, cramps and flushing of the skin. These toxins can also be found in other types of freshwater fish and can occur in tuna that’s been left in a warm temperature for too long. Unfortunately, scombroid toxins cannot be cooked away, so if you suspect your fish may be contaminated, throw it away.

4. Tomatoes

Fruits and vegetables are often the cause of food poisoning because they’re typically eaten raw. Tomatoes are no exception and are usually contaminated with salmonella. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, tomatoes were the cause of 31 outbreaks between 1990 and 2006.

5. Leafy Greens

Lettuces, spinach and other leafy greens often become contaminated with E. coli and salmonella through contaminated equipment, contact with animals or unclean handling.

6. Sprouts

These seeds are usually grown in hot, humid conditions, which are also the best conditions to breed bacteria. E. coli and salmonella are frequently found on sprouts and are often spread through improper handling practices.

7. Eggs

Eggs are a common cause of salmonella poisoning. While the bacteria can be found on the outside of the shell, it’s more likely to be found inside the egg itself. It’s usually passed on from the mother hen before the shell has even had a chance to form.

8. Ice Cream

Yes, that favorite summer treat is to blame for a number of food poisoning outbreaks. Ice cream is a common source of salmonella, which usually comes from tainted eggs that have been used as an ingredient. Soft-serve ice cream has also been linked to listeria, which can be especially harmful to pregnant women. This bacteria is typically found lurking in soft-serve machines or it can come from the milk of contaminated cows.

9. Cheese

Since it takes so many steps to make cheese, there are so many chances to introduce bacteria into the cheese. Salmonella is most often found in cheese, but soft cheeses, like soft-serve ice cream, are a common source of listeria.

10. Raw Milk

Raw, or unpasteurized, milk can harbor bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella and listeria. Raw milk has been the cause of many outbreaks over the years and is illegal to buy in certain states. Raw milk that comes from a commercial farm or from cows that are grain-fed or pumped up with hormones are more likely to be contaminated than raw milk that comes from a small or local farm.

Other foods that commonly cause food poisoning are berries and potatoes. According to the CSPI, berries were the cause of 25 outbreaks between 1990 and 2006 and caused almost 3,400 illnesses. Potatoes have caused more than 100 outbreaks, according to the CSPI, and are common causes of listeria and salmonella poisoning. But the potato itself is not usually the source of bacteria. The bacteria is transferred through improper handling techniques.

In fact, most of the foods themselves are not really to blame. Bacteria is usually spread to these foods from unclean equipment or deli counters, unclean hands and even through contact with animals. If these foods are not stored at the proper temperature or are cross-contaminated, then a foodborne illness is inevitable. So if you’re now feeling a little leery of the foods that have made this list, don’t worry. The key is being aware of where your food comes from and how it is handled.


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