Food Tips

6 Weird Foods That Can Make You Seriously Sick

food poisoning foods

KASANDRA BRABAW

Last year, after it was revealed that millions of pints of Blue Bell ice cream could be tainted with life-threatening listeria bacteria, my social media feeds blew up with pictures and posts from friends, all devastated as they watched store shelves empty of their favorite ice cream overnight. I felt their pain. It was an outbreak no one, especially Southerners like my friends and I who consider Blue Bell to be the best ice cream ever made, ever saw coming. Sure, food poisoning makes sense in alfalfa sprouts, raw eggs, and chicken, but in ice cream? That’s a tragedy with no rationale.

Yet as it turns out, many packaged foods carry the threat of making someone violently ill. Here, 6 little-known foods that can pose a big-time risk of food poisoning:

1. Caramel apples

candy apple

PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIGITTE SPORRER/GETTY IMAGES

Next time you hit up a county fair, reconsider a stop at the caramel apple stand. Research shows the sweet treat can be a breeding ground for the disease-causing bacteria listeria. This even surprised researchers, who had previously thought apples to be too acidic and caramel coating too thick to allow for bacterial growth. But, as scientists discovered, inserting a stick into an apple creates just enough juice to make a perfect bacteria-breeding ground between apple and caramel. Can’t resist some sticky-sweet goodness? Ask for an apple that has been refrigerated or, if available, one without a stick (or try making one of these easy apple recipes for dessert.)2. Frozen berries

frozen berries

PHOTOGRAPH BY EKATERINA PLANINA/GETTY IMAGES

We can understand getting sick from fresh produce, but the frozen kind? Well, it’s sad, but true: An organic blend of frozen berries and pomegranate seeds sickened 165 people with Hepatitis A in 2013, while another possible Hepatitis A outbreak last year in frozen mixed berries caused 31 people to get sick. Hepatitis A contaminates food during the production stage, so there’s not much you can do to avoid disease-carrying berries, except remember that there are millions and millions of frozen berry products and your chances of getting ill from rarely contaminated batches are still extremely low.

3. Potatoes

potatoes

PHOTOGRAPH BY HALFDARK/GETTY IMAGES

It’s difficult to believe these hearty root vegetables could cause anything but an incredible French fry, but potatoes have been linked to more than 100 outbreaks over the last 30 years, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Although most of these outbreaks didn’t come from the spuds themselves but from food handling problems like letting potato salad sit too long on an unrefrigerated truck, there are still some cases of solanine poisoning, which does come directly from potatoes. Solanine is a toxin that builds up in potato skins as they sit in the sun, but luckily, it’s easy to avoid. Next time you’re at the market, simply scrutinize the color of your spuds: Any tubers with a high concentration of the toxin will have green-tinted skin. 

4. Cheese

queso fresco

PHOTOGRAPH BY FUSE/GETTY IMAGES

Who doesn’t love delicious, creamy soft cheeses like feta, brie, blue cheese, and queso fresco? The only problem with the soft kind is that many are often unpasteurized and thereby more likely to contain salmonella or listeria, both of which would normally be killed during pasteurization. In the last 5 years, unpasteurized cheeses have caused 4 different outbreaks, according to the CSPI, but it is easy to avoid potential problems: Simply look for the word “pasteurized” on labels and always store cheese in the fridge.5. Cucumbers

cucumber

PHOTOGRAPH BY EIVAISLA/GETTY IMAGES

With their thick skin and easy-to-grow ability, cucumbers seem like an unlikely source of food poisoning, but over the last 3 years alone, this low-calorie salad staple has caused two different salmonella outbreaks, according to the CSPI. One outbreak, in 2015, hospitalized 165 people and killed 4. Although the CDC is continuing to investigate the most recent incident, cucumbers imported from Mexico have been fingered as the source of both outbreaks. What to do? Until the CDC releases its final report, stick to domestically raised cucumbers, which will also help reduce your carbon footprint.6. Ice cream

ice cream

PHOTOGRAPH BY ELEONORA GRASSO PHOTOGRAPHY/GETTY IMAGES

If we’ve learned anything from the great Blue Bell meltdown of 2015, it’s that ice cream isn’t immune to bacterial outbreaks, no matter how tasty it is. Blue Bell isn’t the only ice cream to fall prey to harmful bacteria: A 2013 outbreak in ice cream homemade at a hotel in Germany hospitalized 7 people. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to protect yourself as bacteria in ice cream can come from a problem in production or from a contaminated ingredient. (Try making your own ice cream at home.) But again take heart in the statistics: Given how much ice cream is sold worldwide, you have a greater chance of winning a Powerball jackpot than falling ill from a chocolate chip sundae.

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