SACRAMENTO—Just in time for flu season, a consumer watchdog group has come out with a Top 10 list of high-risk food based on their likeliness to cause a person to fall ill.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest reported the Food and Drug Administration found leafy greens, eggs and tuna to be among the riskiest foods a person can consume when it comes to foodborne illnesses associated with pathogens such as Salmonella and E.Coli. The study followed outbreak and illness trends dating back as far as 1990.
Illnesses caused by the foods ranged from minor cramps over the course of a few days to more serious results including kidney failure and death.
According to the FDA, the top riskiest foods are:
1. Leafy Greens: The Center found that 363 separate outbreaks were linked to foods including various kinds of lettuce, spinach, cabbage, kale and arugula. Leafy greens accounted for nearly one-fourth of all contamination outbreaks. Contamination of food generally happens due to improper handling by agricultural workers, restaurants and individuals.
2. Eggs: Salmonella causes most illnesses associated with shell eggs. Between 1990 and 2006, over 11,000 people were sickened by eggs, the CSPI reports. Salmonella generally infects a shell egg when the egg is not thoroughly cleaned of animal feces. Cooking eggs thoroughly helps cut down on the risk of Salmonella infection. Think twice before chomping on that raw cookie dough...
3. Tuna: Fish, like tuna, tend to decay if not stored at temperatures below 60 degrees. Fish stored at room temperature will begin to release toxins that are harmful to human beings, one such toxin being "scombrotoxin," which leads to an illness called scombroid poisoning. Once secreted, the toxin cannot be cooked out. Such poisoning can cause blurry vision, abdominal cramps and other irritating symptoms.
4. Oysters: Most illnesses occur due to bacterial outbreaks that begin at restaurants serving oysters. Oysters that contain the Norovirus from contaminated waters can cause gastroenteritis -- an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Another serious pathogen found in contaminated oysters, V.Vulnificus, can infect a person's bloodstream, causing death.
5. Potatoes: Usually, potatoes as a single food are fine to consume and pose little risk. However, potatoes that are present as part of a dish, especially potato salad, tend to carry a higher risk of contamination. More than 40 percent of outbreaks were linked to dishes prepared in restaurants and supermarket delis.
6. Cheese: Thousands of consumers have been sickened by pathogens found in a variety of cheese. The initial production of cheese -- curdling, molding and salting -- can cause infection of cheese products. Infected cheese has been known to cause a miscarriage in pregnant women. Most outbreaks from cheese happen in individual homes.
7. Ice Cream: Bad eggs contaminated with Salmonella makes ice cream an ideal food for pathogenic transfer. Ice cream machines that contain Listeria, commonly found on metal items like ice cream soft serve machines, can also cause infection.
8. Tomatoes: Lycopene is good for you. Salmonella is not. The pathogen is known to enter the tomato through its roots or flowers as well as cracks in the fruit's stem (yes, tomatoes are a fruit). Restaurants caused the most illnesses associated with tomatoes.
9. Sprouts: Raw sprouts carry a high risk of E.Coli and Salmonella infection, with the latter pathogen having a higher infection rate of people than the former. The FDA has asked sprout manufacturers to carry labels warning against the consumption of raw sprout consumption, but there is currently no mandate for food processors to do so.
10. Berries: From strawberries to blackberries, berries carry a risk of being infected with Cyclospora, which can cause dehydration and stomach cramps. Thousands of students falling sick after eating frozen school lunches caused a massive strawberry recall in 1997. Antibiotics can generally rid humans of infection associated with berries.
Health officials say infection from food can be minimalized by washing fruits and vegetables, inspecting eggs for cleanliness and cracks prior to purchase, disposing of foods that have expired and cooking foods thoroughly before consumption.