9 Things Food Poisoning Experts Always Avoid

Some foods are more associated with illnesses than others, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But these foods are the worst, according to experts, who either take extra precautions or avoid them altogether.

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Grilled burgers on a barbecue grill close-up.
Shutterstock / Maxim Blinkov

Undercooked meat

The number one source of food poisoning is undercooked meat. “Most raw poultry contains Campylobacter. It also may contain Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, and other bacteria. Raw meat may contain Salmonella, E. coli, Yersinia, and other bacteria,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thoroughly cooking poultry and meat will destroy the bacteria, but you can’t tell if meat is properly cooked just by looking. Always use a meat thermometer and cook food to a safe internal temperature. Use this guide to find the right temperature for each type of meat, poultry and seafood.

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Leftover containers of food in a refrigerator for use with many food inferences
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Leftover meat

Just because you cooked it once doesn’t mean it’s safe after it’s been relegated to leftovers. Leftovers should be refrigerated at 40°F or colder within 2 hours after preparation. Large cuts of meat, such as roasts or a whole turkey, should be divided into smaller quantities for refrigeration so they’ll cool quickly enough to prevent bacteria from growing. If you haven’t taken these precautions, when you use your leftovers in any of these leftovers recipes, you will need to cook your meat to the internal temperatures listed here. And please remember that when you use leftover meat in a cold salad, the same rule applies.

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Rows of aluminium cans as backdrop of a food and beverages outlet
Shutterstock / Wan Fahmy Redzuan

Canned foods

If your canned food is deeply dented, don’t eat it, advises the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, “A deep dent is one that you can lay your finger into. Deep dents often have sharp points.” A sharp dent on either the top or side seam can damage the seam and allow bacteria to enter the can, and you don’t want that.

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Pour raw milk into a bucket
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Raw (unpasteurized) milk

Raw milk can carry harmful bacteria that can make you very sick. They include Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella. Although liseriosis (the infection caused by Listeria) is rare, pregnant women are less capable of fighting it off, which means that it can be more deadly in pregnant women. In addition, it’s possible for the unborn baby to become ill as well. Older adults and people that have a compromised immune system are also in greater danger than the general population.

It’s best, therefore, for everyone to drink pasteurized milk. For those at greater risk, take the extra precaution of not eating any dairy products made from unpasteurized milk (raw cheeses, for example).

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Duck egg yolk and hen egg yolk
Shutterstock / Onanong Thongnoum

Raw eggs

Eggs can contain Salmonella even if the egg looks clean and is uncracked. To avoid getting sick, cook eggs until the yolks and whites are firm. Cook foods containing eggs thoroughly. Keep your eggs at 40°F or colder, and don’t eat raw cookie dough or cake batter.

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Oysters on crushed ice with antique oyster knife and silver fork with lemon fruit and pearls on a tin plate on a marble slab.
Photo: Shutterstock / marilyn barbone

Raw shellfish

Oysters and other filter-feeding shellfish can contain viruses and bacteria. Raw or undercooked oysters can contain Vibrio bacteria, which can lead to an infection called vibriosis. Oysters harvested from contaminated waters can contain norovirus, which causes vomiting and diarrhea. To avoid food poisoning, cook your seafood.

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Mix of fruits
Shutterstock/Agnes Kantaruk

Unwashed fruits and veggies

Eating fresh produce provides important health benefits, but sometimes raw fruits and vegetables may contain Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, and other bacteria. Contamination can occur anytime from the farm right to the table, including via cross-contamination in your own kitchen. So always wash your produce carefully. If your immune system is compromised for any reason (for example, if you’re undergoing chemotherapy, or you’ve recently had surgery), then wash them at least twice before eating. Here are four ways to wash the goodies you bring home from the farmer’s market.

By the way, this is true for fruits with peels as well, according to Registered Dietitian, Jodi Danen. That’s because you’re either touching the peel with your fingers or cutting through the peel, thereby cross-contaminating the flesh with germs from the peel. In addition, Danen points out that once fruits and veggies are sliced, they must be refrigerated within a four-hour window to prevent bacterial growth.

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Top View Of Hand Holding Open Bag Of Flour
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Raw flour

You’re probably thinking, “Ew! Why would I ever eat raw flour?” Hello, cookie dough? Harmful germs can contaminate grain while it’s still in the field, at every step of production and after it enters your home. You’re safe from those germs once you cook the flour. So just say no to licking the bowl. Here’s some more information about the dangers of eating raw flour (and raw dough and batter in general).

And if you can’t shake the cookie dough habit, try these edible cookie doughs—all made with heat-treated (AKA safe to eat) flour.

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Group of green and purple sprouts growing out from soil
Shutterstock / sarocha wangdee

Raw sprouts

Wait, what? Aren’t sprouts like the ultimate health food? Yes, but, no. Sprouts are grown in warm, wet conditions, which makes them basically a petri dish for germs (including Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria). Thoroughly cooking sprouts kills the harmful germs. So, if you don’t totally LOVE sprouts, think about cooking them rather than serving them raw on your sandwiches and salads.

For more useful information on food-borne illnesses, Bernard Camins, MD, chief epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham has put together this fact sheet that’s definitely worth a look.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly in The Huffington Post as well as a variety of other publications since 2008 on such topics as life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. She is also a writer of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.