Where's the Beef? 10 Unexpectedly Risky Foods

Ayoob pointed out that potatoes are often used in salads with mayonnaise, which has a high risk of going bad if left unrefrigerated for a period of time.

"In the home is where consumers have a lot of control," Ayoob said, stressing washing and separate cutting boards to prevent cross-contamination between meat, dairy and produce.

"Even if foods did cause an outbreak, at home, to some degree, it could be prevented," he said.


Salmonella was the most common hazard among cheese products, responsible for 83 outbreaks and 2,761 reported illnesses.

Cheeses are susceptible to contamination because they are made using many steps, including curdling, salting, and processing. Using pasteurized milk that has been heated to kill pathogens has reduced the number of harmful bacteria in cheese.

The report stressed that certain people, such as pregnant women, should be wary of soft cheeses like brie or camembert because they are more likely to contain the harmful listeria bacteria, which has been linked to miscarriage.

Ice Cream

Hearts might sink to see ice cream on a list of risky foods, but the CSPI reported that it was responsible for 74 outbreaks and 2,594 reported illnesses.

DeWaal said salmonella, possibly the result of using contaminated eggs as part of the ice cream pre-mix, is one risk. In fact, contaminated pre-mix from unpasteurized eggs was the reason a large outbreak occurred in 1994.

Soft ice cream is still another risk, because of the chance of listeria contamination.

Ayoob pointed out that in ice cream stores, good food handling practices, such as keeping scoopers clean, are essential to avoid contaminating ice cream.

"It's usually not the ice cream but what people did to it," Ayoob said.


Tomatoes are frequently linked to foodborne illnesses and they are suceptible to contamination because they are often eaten raw instead of being cooked to kill bacteria, and together with other foods, such as salad greens, where it is easy for pathogens to spread.

There were 31 outbreaks involving tomatoes recorded between 1990 and 2006, which resulted in 3,292 illnesses. Salmonella contamination was responsible for more than half of these outbreaks and norovirus was the second most common contaminant.

But DeWaal pointed out that although fresh produce can be a risk for contracting a pathogen, eating fruits and vegetables is important because "these foods are too ubiquitous and too good for you."

Ayoob agreed and suggested cutting fruits and vegetables before preparing meats, using separate cutting boards for both, and washing everything that touched the meat -- including the sink faucet -- thoroughly and often, to keep pathogens at bay.


The CSPI report identified sprout seeds as the primary source of contamination for a germinated sprout.

Improper handling can spread pathogens to uncontaminated plants. Salmonella is common to sprouts, as is E. coli. The CSPI reports that contaminated sprouts have caused 31 outbreaks and 2,022 reported cases of illness.

The researchers note that the warm, humid conditions sometimes used to encourage seeds to germinate can lead to bacterial growth -- a problem that they say new legislation could resolve.

"CSPI's real concern is helping the FDA to regulate foods" DeWaal said. "They don't have mandatory food safety plans -- or frequent inspection -- they do it sporadically, but they don't do it consistently."

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