The ten foods in your shopping cart that are most likely to make you sick have been revealed.
Researchers at Consumer Reports ranked regularly purchased foods based on how many outbreaks, deaths and illnesses they had caused since 2017. Their list included more than 200million units of recalls and 5,000 food poisoning outbreaks.
They found that leafy greens were the worst offenders, alongside cheeses and deli meats, ground beef and chicken and turkey.
But there were also some surprises — including onions and flour — with researchers saying outbreaks in these products were linked to contaminated irrigation water.
Brian Ronholm, the director of food policy at the New York-based group, said: ‘We aren’t saying people need to avoid these foods entirely. After all, these foods are all usually safe and many of them are in fact important parts of a healthy diet.
Pictured above are the ten foods most likely to make you sick, according to researchers
‘But the list underscores the importance of following best food safety practices with all of your foods, including knowing how to track, and respond, to food recalls as they happen.’
Food poisoning outbreaks are often reported in the US. About 48million Americans fall sick from salmonella, listeria and E.coli picked up in foods every year.
Most recover on their own after a few unpleasant days, but nearly 130,000 were hospitalized and 3,000 died from foodborne illnesses annually.
Children under five years old, older people and pregnant women are at greatest risk beause they have a weaker immune system.
Below is the list of foods most likely to make you sick:
Number of deaths: 11
Number of illnesses: 614
Outbreaks and amount recalled: 50 and 4,390,638 cases.
Leafy Greens came top of the list for foods that are most likely to make you sick after consumption.
They were behind the most deaths out of all the items on the list and the second highest number of outbreaks — behind only cheese and deli meat.
Researchers said that lettuces, arugula, kale and others tend to get contaminated by dirty irrigation water.
Cows hold billions of dangerous bacteria like E.coli and listeria in their guts. When the animals defecate, these are released onto the soil where they can be washed into the groundwater supply.
These ‘dirty’ waters can then be sucked up by machines and used to irrigate crops, spraying the bacteria directly onto greens.
Contamination can also happen during packaging, researchers said, because should the bacteria get onto machinery it can quickly be spread to many leafy greens.
There are also few packaging centers in the salad industry, raising the risk of widespread contamination.
It is likely that machinery contamination was behind the 2021 outbreak, when a major recall by Dole saw 76 products recalled while Fresh Express had to recall more than 100 products.
Farmers in California and Arizona — where most US greens are grown — are trying to reduce the risk by grazing cattle away from their greensfields.
But Consumer Reports said there are also several steps consumers can take to limit their risk of infection.
This includes buying whole-head lettuce instead of mixed products, because this has not been exposed to as much machinery cutting the risk of contamination.
They said it would also be worth removing the outer leaves on greens before eating them, as this is where most bad bacteria will be lurking.
Cheese and deli meat:
Number of deaths: 7
Number of illnesses: 409
Outbreaks and amount recalled: 122 and 16,925,594lbs
These deli products made second-place on the list thanks to contamination with the bacteria listeria.
This had likely got into products because they may be made from beef or milk that has come from infected cows.
Because listeria flourishes in cold temperatures it can actually start spreading in deli counters. Each time a piece of sliced meat or cheese is touched by someone’s hand it raises the risk of the bacteria spreading.
Listeria is a particularly dangerous bacteria, with 90 percent of people infected ending up in hospital. In pregnant women, an infection can lead to miscarriage or deaths.
Consumer Reports said that to limit exposure to the risks posed by deli counters it was best to avoid them entirely.
They said the meats are often ‘nutritional nightmares’ being high in salt and processed — linked to a higher risk of heart disease and cancer.
For those who do use deli meats, they said purchasing pre-packaged foods was best because this reduces the risk of infection.
Number of deaths: 2
Number of illnesses: 643
Outbreaks and amount recalled: 22 and 13,744,438lbs
Ground beef also posed a high risk of contamination for people because bacteria from cows guts — mainly E.coli and salmonella — can get into the meat.
This can happen with steaks, but the bacteria is usually on the side and is quickly destroyed via cooking.
With processed meat, however, the bacteria can end up anywhere in the food meaning it needs to be entirely cooked through to cut the risk.
The meat is often also made up of several animals, which the researchers said raises someone’s risk of infection further.
To avoid the illness, they recommended keeping meat in bags in the refrigerator in order to stop it from spreading. They also recommended having separate chopping boards for meat and vegetables in your kitchen.
To reduce bacteria growth meat should be kept cold at 40F (4C) and should also be thawed in a refrigerator rather than on the counter.
Number of deaths: None since 2017
Number of illnesses: 2,167
Outbreaks and amount recalled: 13 and 78,015,814lbs
Onions have been behind the most food poisonings since 2017, figures showed, although they did not cause any deaths.
Consumer Reports said this was driven by two large recalls of red, white and yellow onions in 2020 and 2021 because of contamination with listeria.
Like with leafy greens, this had likely got into onions after contaminated ground water was used to water the crops.
A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigation of previous outbreaks found that this was the source of listeria, but also noted droppings from wild birds and other animals in fields as likely to also cause contamination.
Cooking onions kills any dangerous bacteria lurking in their layers.
But to cut your risk further, Consumer Reports also recommended avoiding any that are bruised saying bacteria finds it easier to enter damaged foods.
They should also never be washed hours before cooking because this can spur the growth of bacteria.
Chicken and Turkey
Number of deaths: 3
Number of illnesses: 588
Outbreaks and amount recalled: 8 and 584,711lbs
Also on the list were chicken and turkey due to previous contamination with the bacteria salmonella.
This micro-organism lives in the guts of the birds and can be transferred between them via contact with droppings. But it can also cause an illness in humans.
It can get into the meat thanks to the crowded and filthy conditions they are raised in and while they are being processed in a factory. Like with leafy greens, if salmonella gets onto machinery or handlers it can quickly be spread.
The bacteria is a known risk with the birds and is actually accepted by the US Department of Agriculture up to a certain level.
Their guidelines state that salmonella can be in up to 9.8 percent of chickens tested, 15.4 percent of chicken parts and 25 percent of ground chicken.
The bacteria is normally killed when chicken or turkey are heated during cooking.
To further limit your risk, Consumer Reports said you should avoid washing chicken before cooking. They said this can spread any salmonella on the cuts around the sink and give it a chance to get onto other foods.
Number of deaths: 2
Number of illnesses: 332
Outbreaks and amount recalled: 12 and 600,974
Coming seventh on the list were papayas that are often imported into the United States from Mexico.
These fruits can become contaminated with salmonella via irrigation should this be frequented by waterfowl, which can then be spread in factories.
Previous investigations found that when papayas enter factories they may be washed in water with too little chlorine to kill bacteria, which instead spreads it between fruits.
Factories may also reuse sheets of poly foam for sorting papayas, providing yet more opportunity for salmonella to spread once it has entered a factory.
To limit your risk, Consumer Reports recommends avoiding purchasing pre-cut papaya because this gives more opportunity for bacteria to spread.
Number of deaths: 0 since 2017
Number of illnesses: 101
Outbreaks and amount recalled: 6 and 113,062,324lbs
Peaches ranked eighth on the list of foods in your shopping cart most likely to make you sick.
Researchers said this was likely because the fruits are often grown near animal feedlots, providing ample opportunity for bacteria like salmonella to spread to them.
An investigation by the FDA in 2020 into an outbreak of nearly 113million lbs of the fruit found that the peach orchards were near animal feedlots and that some tested positive for salmonella strains previously seen in cattle and poultry.
They suggest, however, that the bacteria could also have spread via the wind which picked up dust and deposited it on crops.
Like with papayas, to limit your risk Consumer Reports recommends avoiding chopped versions of the fruit.
Number of deaths: 0 since 2017
Number of illnesses: 302
Outbreaks and amount recalled: 4 and 279,205 ‘retail units’ and 946 one gallon tubs of cantaloupe ballsand chunks
For cantaloupes and other melons, the researchers said contamination tends to happen when the fruits are prepared.
There may be salmonella on the skin on the outside of the fruit, but this will not be able to penetrate within.
However, when the fruits are cut into cubes or balls before sale this risks the bacteria being transferred onto the flesh — causing illness.
To avoid this, Consumer Reports recommends not purchasing pre-cut cantaloupes or other melons.
Number of deaths: 0 since 2017
Number of illnesses: 44
Outbreaks and amount recalled: 22 and no unit given
Another surprise in the Consumer Reports top ten list was flour.
As many as 22 outbreaks were recorded since 2017 linked to uncooked flower, mixes used for cookies, brownies and cakes and premade cake batter.
The contamination of the food was linked to E.coli and salmonella, which are often found in animal’s guts and droppings.
The researchers suggested that in wheat fields, crops can become contaminated with the bacteria via water from livestock or wild animal droppings, notably from deer and birds.
When the grains are milled into flour, this breaks them into a fine powder but does not kill the bacteria.
Normally flour is cooked before consumption, removing the risk of infection by killing the bacteria.
But Consumer Reports said that in order to further limit your risk it would be ideal to avoid eating raw homemade dough or batter.
They also said that flour and baking mixes should be kept away from all ready-to-eat foods like fresh produce, both when buying in a supermarket and storing at home, in order to avoid contamination.
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