5 surprising foods that could give you food poisoning – according to an expert

-May 3, Caroline Blight, Health -

Have you ever had food poisoning but not been quite sure what to blame? Perhaps what you ate during the previous 24 hours had seemed perfectly innocent and unlikely to cause problems. Well, it turns out that are foods which can cause nasty problems – it’s just that the majority of us don’t know about them. We asked a food poisoning expert which foods he would never touch… 

There are foods we all know could lead to food poisoning. That slightly pink chicken, the mussel which didn’t open, the soft cheese with a slightly pink tinge.

But there are a host of other foods which food poisoning experts would also avoid like the plague when eating out or shopping for their weekly groceries.

When Bill Marler, the most prominent food-safety lawyer in the States who has represented victims in nearly every food-bourne illness outbreak in the US in the last 20 years, was asked what he would avoid his response went as viral. 

Here are the top five foods he would recommend leaving untouched if you want your dinner to stay down.

Why raw dairy could pose serious problems

There has been something of a trend towards raw milk with advocates claiming it’s packed with nutrients and friendly bacteria which can do us good. But Bill thinks otherwise. “There’s no benefit big enough to take away the risk of drinking products that can be made safe by pasteurisation,” he says.

Raw milk and cream sale is actually illegal in England unless from registered milk production farms at the farm gate or farmhouse catering operation, farmers at farmers’ markets, distributors using a vehicle as a shop such as a milk round, direct online sales or vending machines at the farm.

Sales of raw milk and cream are completely banned in Scotland. “We advise that raw or unpasteurised milk and cream may contain harmful bacteria that cause food poisoning,” says The Food Standards Agency.

“People with a weaker immune system are particularly vulnerable to food poisoning and should not consume it.”

Pasteurisation does remove a small amount of nutrients in milk but Bill argues that pasteurisation is also an important safety procedure that eliminates harmful parasites, bacteria, and viruses from milk.

The risk of infection and resulting pain from complications like hemolytic uremic syndrome is simply not worth what you lose in nutrients.

Better to drink whole, organic milk which has been pasteurised and is so higher in nutrients than it’s skimmed and non-organic equivalent.

Oysters can definitely be a turn-off rather than a turn-on

They are a sign of luxury – which is fine if you have the luxury of a boss who doesn’t mind you taking time off for food poisoning!

And, they have a reputation as an aphrodisiac but that’s debatable if you end up with a nasty case of vomiting – and worse. 

Bill says cases of poisoning thanks to oysters are on the increase, something he believes is related to the increase in world sea temperatures as that in turn means microbial growth.

The problem with eating oysters actually lies in what oysters are eating – which is everything in the water. Good and bad!

As they filter feed they hold everything, including bacteria and when we eat them, we eat that bacteria too.

If there’s bacteria in the water it’ll get into their system, and if you eat it you could have trouble,” he explains. “I’ve seen a lot more of that over the last five years than I saw in the last 20 years. It’s simply not worth the risk.”

Back in 2011 a two-year examination of UK oyster production sites by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), found three-quarters of British-grown oysters contain norovirus.

Crab, prawns, and lobster often contain harmful food poisoning-causing bacteria too, although we are less likely to eat these raw. As a rule all shellfish should be cooked before consumption.

Raw sprouts can hide harmful bacteria

They are something of a health food now, lauded on Instagram by clean eaters.

But Bill reckons they are anything but! It may surprise you but there have been a significant number of poisoning from Salmonella and E. coli bacteria thanks to these little sprouts.

“There have been too many outbreaks to not pay attention to the risk of sprout contamination,” Bill says. “Those are products that I just don’t eat at all.”

Because of their high moisture content raw sprouts, including alfalfa, clover, radish, and bean sprouts microbes often set up home on them.

They are prone to bacterial contamination of their seeds. The warm, moist conditions required to grow sprouts are ideal for the rapid growth of bacteria, including salmonella, listeria, and E. coli. Other bacteria, such as Bacillus cereus, Staphylococcus aureus and Listeria monocytogenes have also occasionally been known to cause illness associated with sprouts.

You should not eat sprouts that are past their use by date and should avoid using sprouts that have turned brown or changed colour.

And ideally they should be cooked to kill off the unwanted bacteria.

Can rare meat cause food poisoning too? 

You might love your meat blue – but you might also be revisiting it again if you do!

Rare beef carries a host of food-bourne pathogens including Listeria, Salmonella, and E. coli. In fact red meat needs to be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit (160 degrees for ground meats) in order to be safe.

And just because rare burgers are currently trendy, it’s really not worth indulging as they pose a serious health hazard.

“The reason ground products are more problematic and need to be cooked more thoroughly is that any bacteria that’s on the surface of the meat can be ground inside of it,” Bill explains. “If it’s not cooked thoroughly to 160°F throughout, it can cause poisoning by E. coli and salmonella and other bacterial illnesses.”

Do pre-packed leaves need to be washed?

It’s so convenient being able to pick up a bag of mixed leaves and empty them into a bowl as a ready-for-the-table salad or to pop a handful in a sandwich straight from the fridge.

There’s no need to even wash them as they come ready washed. Wrong says Bill. Unless you are happy having your salad with a side of food poisoning!

Green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, rocket, watercress and lettuce are so often havens thanks to water contamination or poor handling practices during processing.

I avoid these like the plague,” admits Bill. “We’ve gotten so used to the convenience of mass-produced food like bagged salad and boxed salads and pre-cut this and pre-cut that. Convenience is great but sometimes I think it isn’t worth the risk.”

Researchers at the University of Leicester found evidence that the environment inside a salad bag offers an ideal breeding ground for salmonella.

They grew salmonella in salad juice and leaves at different temperatures to see what happened, and found salad leaf juice – released from the leaves when they’re damaged or broken – supports the growth of salmonella, even at fridge temperature.

They also found that if leaves are contaminated, the bacteria aren’t removed by washing in water. An E. coli outbreak in July 2016 this year, thought to be linked to contaminated salad, actually killed two people and hospitalised 62 others. 

For safer and more nutritious salad cut your own veggies and buy a whole lettuce and wash it. Which is still more convenient than the time you could spend throwing up!


If you found this interesting here’s our guide to which foods should be cooked and which are better raw. And, did you know that farmed salmon is hiding a toxic secret? 

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