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20 Foods Most Likely to be Contaminated

Take extra caution to avoid tummy troubles with these high-risk foods for foodborne illnesses lurking in your fridge.
Washing romaine lettuce

Many of us are all too aware of the nausea, cramps, and fatigue that follow food poisoning. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in every six Americans becomes victim to disease-causing bacteria, parasites, and viruses found in countless foods and drinks.

Since about 3,000 people out of the 48 million infected die annually because of foodborne diseases (woah!), it's super important to take preventative measures to make sure your food doesn't harbor any insidious microbes. That means making sure your refrigerator is working properly as well as washing your produce and hands before handling food.

Read on to discover the foods that are most likely to be contaminated. And to make sure you're truly in the clear when you're in the kitchen, be sure to check out the best ways to avoid foodborne illness, too.


Red Meats

Roast beef

Bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria love to feast on raw or undercooked beef, lamb, pork, and other red meats. That's why it's nearly impossible to forget the 1998 Sara Lee Listeria outbreak, where 35 million pounds of meat (mostly hot dogs) infected 100 people and killed 21. To avoid any BBQ disasters, cook your meats thoroughly.



Fried eggs

Whether you prefer brown or white eggs, cage-free or conventional, make sure your eggs are Salmonella-free by purchasing refrigerated cartons, checking for and removing any cracked ones, and purchasing by the sell-by date. According to the Egg Safety Center, "fresh shell eggs are safe to be consumed four to five weeks beyond the date they were packed, which is the Julian date found on the carton's short end."


Unpasteurized Dairy Products

brie cheese

If you're a fan of feta, goat cheese, Brie, Camembert, blue cheese, Mexican queso, Gloucester cheese, or Gruyere you may be at a higher risk of contracting Listeria, Salmonella, and E. Coli, which can be found in raw unpasteurized milk. Pasteurization, which rids dairy of any nausea-causing bacteria, is a process that requires manufacturers to heat raw milk to a minimum of 161 degrees Fahrenheit for over 15 seconds, and then quickly cool it.



frozen chicken nuggets

Dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets seem deliciously innocent—until they're infecting your tots with Salmonella. To ensure your chicken is bacteria-free, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases suggests cooking poultry until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.


Leafy Greens

Kale dark leafy greens hand massaged in bowl

Thanks to the CDC's extensive review of foodborne illnesses between 1998 and 2008, we know that chopped leafy greens caused 22 percent, or a fifth, of the 120,321 reported food-related illnesses during the 11-year time span.


Seeded Veggies


According to U.S. Department of Agriculture's estimates, 20 percent of salmonella cases were caused by imported seeded vegetables (think: cucumbers and jalapenos). To avoid becoming infected by this sneaky bacteria, wash your veggies thoroughly. And then wash them again.


Seeds & Sprouts

alfalfa sprouts

Since seeds and sprouts require a hot and humid climate to grow, this muggy environment is also ideal for tummy-upsetting bacteria to grow. Japan experienced one of the worst E. coli outbreaks in 1996, where approximately 10,000 folks became sick due to contaminated radish sprouts.

RELATED: Your guide to the anti-inflammatory diet that heals your gut, slows the signs of aging, and helps you lose weight.


Baby Food

baby food in glass jars

In an analysis of 11 years worth of federal data, The Environmental Defense Fund discovered that 20 percent of 2,164 baby food samples contained lead—a metal that can pose threats to attention, behavior, cognitive development as well as the cardiovascular and immune systems. To make sure your little one isn't exposed, avoid fruit juices (especially apple and grape), root vegetables (like sweet potatoes and carrots), and teething biscuits—where the metal was most commonly found.



wooden bowl of sliced cantaloupe

According to the CDC, a 2006 Salmonella outbreak in tomatoes led to a whopping 183 cases in 21 states. And in 2011, a Listeria epidemic swept Jensen Farms' cantaloupes and killed 33 people.


Canned Foods

Canned soup

Improperly sterilized canned foods can cause botulism, a rare but potentially fatal disease that attacks victims with symptoms like respiratory issues and difficulty speaking or swallowing. Here's a little fun fact: Botox is made of botulinum, the toxin that causes the life-threatening disease. Rethinking those youthful injections yet?



white rice brown bowl

Bacillus cereus, a type of bacteria that causes toxins that can cause diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting can also be found in your leftover rice and beans dinner. Leaving cooked rice at room temperature instead of refrigerating it can cause illness-inducing bacteria to grow, according to the UK's National Health Service.



yellowtail tuna

Besides for being adulterated with mercury, tuna and other fish such as mackerel, mahi-mahi, bluefish, anchovy, herring, marlin, and amberjack, can cause histamine toxicity due to the bacteria scombrotoxin, if the seafood is spoiled or not refrigerated.


Peanut Butter

Peanut butter in jar

Like most processed foods, this protein-packed sandwich spread can harbor Salmonella, which doesn't pair well with jelly last time we checked. In fact, a 2004 Salmonella outbreak in PB poisoned six people in five states.



Turkey gravy

Thanksgiving dinner can quickly become a meal to be unthankful for if your gravy is tainted with C. perfringens, aka the "food service germ." This toxic culprit can cause cramping and diarrhea, but can be avoided by refrigerating the stuff and then reheating before you sit down at the dinner table.




Sorry, seafood lovers: you may want to rethink date night at your local oyster bar. While the mollusks are known for their aphrodisiacal properties, they're also a vessel for the bacteria Vibrio vulnificus — which can debilitate a person with fever, ulcers, vomiting, and diarrhea — stuff that definitely won't impress your love interest.


Ice Cream

vanilla bean ice cream in white dish with spoon

In April 2015, Blue Bell was forced to recall its frozen desserts due to a Listeria outbreak that killed three people and had 10 hospitalized. Yet another reason to skip the sweet stuff!



Pouring water

Although not food, water is worth mentioning considering it is essential for life. "Waterborne diarrhoeal diseases, for example, are responsible for 2 million deaths each year, with the majority occurring in children under 5," according to the World Health Organization. Various pathogens such as E. Coli, Legionella, and enteroviruses can contaminate your H2O. So before you stir up a batch of fruit-infused detox water, consider investing in a quality water filter.


Baked & Unbaked Sweets

chocolate chip cookies

Ask anyone with a sweet tooth and they'll tell you that cookie dough is tastiest eaten raw. Sadly, consuming any type of uncooked dough can lead to a Salmonella– or E. coli-related sickness. "Flour is derived from a grain that comes directly from the field and typically is not treated to kill bacteria," Leslie Smoot, Ph.D., a senior advisor in FDA's Office of Food Safety, said in an FDA statement. And just because your desserts are baked, it doesn't mean you're in the clear. Baked goods that contain infected eggs can also make you sick—so you're better off avoiding that Boston cream donut or chocolate eclair.


Potato & Macaroni Salad

macaroni and potato salad served in black bowls

Besides being drenched in fat and loaded with calories, potato salad and pasta salads get two thumbs down due to their high risk for being contaminated with heat-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (staph), which can cause serious tummy troubles, especially in people with cancer, eczema, diabetes, vascular disease, and lung disease.


Prepared Sandwiches

Turkey deli-style sandwich

Staph can also be found in prepared sandwiches that were made with contaminated hands. To avoid the unpleasant symptoms, wash your hands thoroughly and layer your own lunch.

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