This Food Is Most Likely to Cause Food Poisoning (and It’s Not Meat)

Updated: Feb. 06, 2024

You may be surprised that this healthy food choice is also the biggest cause of food poisoning in America over the past five years.

After this year’s recalls of charcuterie, baby formula, flour and Trader Joe’s Tropical Fruit Blend, you may be surprised to learn what the number one cause of food poisoning in America happens to be.

You might think it would be undercooked beef, raw milk or eggs, or other items that food poisoning experts say to avoid. But a new study from Consumer Reports actually points to a different culprit.

What Is the Top Cause of Food Poisoning?

Surprise! It’s actually leafy greens, one of the healthiest food choices in the grocery store. Between the years of 2017-2022, leafy greens caused 614 illnesses and 50 recalls, according to a study by Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports looked at recalls and outbreaks of widely consumed foods during the five-year window between 2017 and 2022, focusing on bacterial contamination (and not recalls due to things like allergens or extraneous particles found in food). In putting together the ranking, Consumer Reports notes that contaminated leafy greens were also responsible for the most deaths, 11, of any food on its list.

Why Are Leafy Greens the Top Cause of Food Poisoning?

Bacteria And Germs On Vegetables and the health risk of ingesting bacteriaWildpixel/Getty Images

The most likely cause of leafy green recalls is E.coli and listeria contamination. Water used to irrigate growing fields has been found to occasionally be polluted with manure from nearby cattle feedlots. Pre-packaged greens can also be contaminated with salmonella or listeria in food processing plants, which is what happened during a salad greens recall in 2021.

What Other Foods Have Caused the Most Food-Borne Illnesses?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 48 million people each year get sick from bacteria such as salmonella, listeria or E. coli, from all sorts of foods. Here is the full list from Consumer Reports:

  1. Leafy Greens
  2. Cheese and Deli Meat
  3. Ground Beef
  4. Onions
  5. Turkey
  6. Chicken
  7. Papayas
  8. Peaches
  9. Cantaloupe
  10. Flour

In second place on Consumer Reports’ list was deli meat, which is no surprise. There has been a whopping 122 deli meat recalls over the past several years. It’s also no surprise that ground beef shows up as number three on the list or that poultry like turkey and chicken are in the top 10.

More unexpected are onions, papayas and cantaloupe showing up on the list. Onions had 13 recalls—resulting in 2,167 people getting sick—between 2017 and 2022. Papayas and cantaloupes, perhaps even more shockingly, faced numerous recalls due to salmonella, each with more than 300 people falling ill. Papayas even caused two deaths during those outbreaks.

Peaches faced an investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2020, in which the FDA found that many orchards were near feedlots, and some tested positive for salmonella.