1 April 2023 | 13:41
Onions, peaches and cold meats, oh my gosh – these are just some of the dodgy foods lurking in your kitchen.
The latest study from Consumer Reports reveals the 1[ads1]0 kitchen items most often linked to food recalls from 2017 to 2022, and some may shock you.
The report notes that an estimated 48 million people become ill from salmonella, listeria, E. coli or other foodborne bacteria or viruses each year, leading to nearly 130,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.
“We’re not saying people need to avoid these foods completely,” said CR director of food policy Brian Ronholm, who led the analysis.
Instead, consumers should know “the importance of following best food safety practices with all of your food, including knowing how to track and respond to food recalls when they happen.”
Moving forward, leafy greens, such as those found in bagged salads, account for 11 deaths, 614 illnesses and 50 recalls/outbreaks.
E. coli and listeria are to blame, and CR says the likely culprit is water contaminated with bacteria from animal droppings that is then used to irrigate crops.
Much of the country’s lettuce comes from California and Arizona, so one affected plant can lead to widespread problems.
“Concentration in the lettuce processing industry means a greater chance of contamination and larger outbreaks when they do occur,” said Dr. Michael Hansen, CR senior researcher.
It does not help that leafy greens are eaten raw, as heating kills bacteria.
Experts recommend buying whole heads of lettuce, rather than bags or cans of greens, and removing the outer leaves, where bacteria are often found.
Greenhouse-grown lettuce is also less likely to come into contact with fertilizer. Or skip the salad altogether and prepare cooked vegetables instead.
The report also lists deli meats and cheeses — such as deli meats and sliced deli or soft cheeses — as potential sources of listeria, which can cause a serious (and sometimes fatal) infection.
CR counts seven deaths, more than 400 illnesses and 122 outbreaks/recalls during the five-year period.
Experts recommend ditching the “nutritional nightmare”, sodium-laden spreads altogether.
Packaged ground beef is also not safe – 22 outbreaks linked to E. coli and salmonella contamination have been reported.
In particular, deadly strains of the bacteria can be transferred from the cow’s intestine to the meat.
Salmonella is a bigger concern and preparation is key.
Thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator, and cook ground beef and pork to an internal temperature of 160°F and whole cuts, such as steak, to 145°F to kill any bacteria. Refrigerate leftovers immediately.
Onion was a “big surprise” on the CR list. But in 2020 and 2021 batches of red, white and yellow onions were recalled due to salmonella.
Cooking onions kills all bacteria, and choosing unbrowned vegetables and storing them out of sunlight are ways to avoid foodborne illness.
Turkey and chicken round out the top six in CR’s report, thanks to salmonella, which the publication blames on sloppy feathering and dirty conditions in which the birds are raised.
CR recommends cooking chicken and turkey in all forms to 165°F and not rinsing the birds to reduce the risk of spreading salmonella around the kitchen.
Pre-cut fruit such as papayas, peaches and melons – which are eaten raw – also carry salmonella risks.
“When you cut into produce, you increase the risk of transferring bacteria that may be on the surface to the meat,” said Dr. James E. Rogers, CR director of food safety research and testing.
“In commercial facilities, with fruits and vegetables processed in one location, it can create opportunities for cross-contamination.”
Between papayas, cantaloupes and peaches, there were over 700 reported illnesses and 22 recalls/outbreaks.
Finally, and perhaps most shockingly, is raw flour.
Although it’s tempting, don’t eat raw batter or dough – even if it’s delicious, it could be contaminated with bacteria.
Cooking is the only way to kill it and ensure safe eating, and experts recommend washing surfaces, crockery and hands thoroughly when coming into contact with raw flour.
CR’s findings coincide with an urgent message from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which warned people this week not to consume raw or uncooked flour because of a salmonella outbreak in 11 states that has hospitalized three people.
“Flour does not look like a raw food, but most flour is raw,” the agency warned.
To stay safe from foodborne illness, monitor recalls and practice proper cooking techniques, which include diligent washing of countertops and anything that comes into contact with raw meat; and prepare the food thoroughly.