We hate to discriminate, especially when it comes to food, but the fact of the matter is that not all of it’s safe to eat — even the stuff you’re served at restaurants, which accounts for almost 60 percent of food poisoning outbreaks. “This year alone, restaurants have caused E. coli, Salmonella, Cyclospora, and Vibrio outbreaks,” explains Jory Lange, a leading water and food safety attorney. As a result, more and more people are turning to home cooking as a safer and healthier way to eat.
“When you cook at home, you know exactly how your food is prepared — that your meat has been properly cooked and your fruits and vegetables have been properly washed,” he adds. Still, even when devoured in the comfort of your home, certain foods are still more likely to cause foodborne illness. To play it safe, here are the items you might want to avoid, according to food safety experts.
If you’re a fan of this culinary delicacy, it’s not a bad idea to do your due diligence to ensure the grocery store or restaurant from which you order them are top of the line quality. Mareya Ibrahim, national food safety expert and chef, only eats them when she knows for a fact that they came from very cold waters and are handled properly. “Otherwise, the opportunity to get Vibrio, a foodborne infection, is just too scary,” she says. “Instead, I go with ceviche, since it’s at least citrus-cured, or a steamed shrimp appetizer with a douse of lemon and horseradish sauce.”
Sprouts are grown in a warm, humid environment that can breed bacteria, explains Ruth Pupo Garcia, RDN, Diabetes Educator at White Memorial Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. They are also a bit difficult to wash, since there are typically so many of them clustered together. She recommends ordering sandwiches, wraps, and salads without the sprouts, and swapping in cucumber or another crisp veggie.
Raw milk cheeses
They’re undeniably delicious, especially when paired with a crisp chardonnay or sauvignon blanc, but if unpasteurized, they can cause some stomach trouble. “Before pasteurization became widespread, milk was actually one of the most dangerous foods that people consumed, since it can be contaminated with Listeria and Campylobacter,” explains Lange. “Cheeses made from raw milk can also be contaminated with these pathogens.” He recommends asking for a cheese made from pasteurized milk, which is the majority of cheeses found in the U.S.
Most of the shrimp we buy at the grocery store and/or eat at restaurants is imported. “Shrimp from other countries is often farmed in unsanitary and unregulated conditions or produced with the use of slave labor,” says Mathew Green, Director of Culinary Operations at Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting. For this reason, he looks for shrimp from the U.S., which is well-regulated, and safe shrimp fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Northwest.
Though it’s tough for her to turn ‘em down, Ibrahim hardly ever feels free to enjoy a ground beef burger. “It could literally come from dozens, even hundreds of cows, and if it’s not cooked well, E.coli becomes a reality with no real way to trace where it came from,” she says. “If you’re hankering for a fat, juicy burger, make sure it’s well-done, or try a veggie alternative if you’re not cooking it yourself.”
It might be the most popular lettuce, but you won’t find it on Ibrahim’s plate — at least for a while. “Romaine lettuce has had too many scares as of late, and I don’t have confidence that most processors are washing their greens adequately,” she says. “Most of the time, the wash is just chlorinated water and it is not a true kill step.” When she eats out, she opts for sautéed greens, or if she’s having a salad, she’ll go to a restaurant that uses the eatCleaner Produce Wash.
Fresh green juices from a juice bar
Few health nuts would turn down freshly pressed juice. But, while they are certainly loaded with nutrients, there’s also no kill step in fresh pressed, raw juice from a juice bar, says Ibrahim. “Leafy greens are the number one cause of foodborne illness, according to the FDA and CDC, and a water rinse just doesn’t cut it,” she says. “Organic doesn’t mean clean but washing the right way will address the residue that can carry pathogenic bacteria.” A better option is to juice at home with a high-quality juicer like the CUBE300S Juice Cube and Nutrition System and always wash your fruits and veggies thoroughly before using.