The 10 foods in your cart that are most likely to make you sick have been revealed.
Researchers at Consumer Reports regularly ranked foods purchased based on the number of outbreaks, deaths, and illnesses they caused since 2017. Their list included more than 200 million recalls and 5,000 food poisoning outbreaks.
They found that leafy greens were the worst, along with cheese and deli meats, and ground beef, chicken and turkey.
But there were also some surprises – including onions and flour – that the researchers said outbreaks of these products were linked to contaminated irrigation water.
“We’re not saying people need to avoid these foods entirely,” said Brian Ronholm, director of food policy for the New York-based group. After all, these foods are usually safe and many of them are actually important parts of a healthy diet.
Pictured above are the 10 foods most likely to make you sick, according to researchers
“But the list stresses the importance of following food safety best practices with all of your foods, including knowing how to track and respond to food recalls as they occur.”
Outbreaks of food poisoning are often reported in the United States. About 48 million Americans get sick from salmonella, listeria, and E. coli caught in foods each year.
Most recover on their own after a few unpleasant days, but approximately 130,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne illnesses annually.
Children under the age of five, the elderly, and pregnant women are more at risk because they have weaker immune systems.
Here is a list of the foods most likely to make you sick:
Number of deaths: 11
Number of diseases: 614
Outbreaks and quantity recalled: 50, 4,390,638 cases.
Leafy greens are at the top of the list of foods most likely to make you sick after consumption.
They were behind the highest number of deaths of all the items on the menu and the second highest number of disease outbreaks – after only cheese and deli meats.
The researchers said that lettuce, watercress, turnip and others are contaminated with dirty irrigation water.
Cows contain billions of dangerous bacteria like Escherichia coli and Listeria in their guts. When animals defecate, it is released onto the soil where it can be washed into the groundwater supply.
This “dirty” water can then be sucked up by machines and used to irrigate crops, spraying the bacteria directly onto the greens.
Contamination can also occur during packaging, the researchers said, because if bacteria get into the machinery, it can quickly spread to many leafy greens.
There are also few packaging centers in the salad industry, which increases the risk of cross contamination.
Machinery contamination is likely behind the 2021 outbreak, when a large recall saw Dole recall 76 products while Fresh Express had to recall more than 100.
Farmers in California and Arizona — where most of America’s greens are grown — are trying to reduce the risk by herding livestock away from their green fields.
But Consumer Reports said there are also several steps consumers can take to reduce infection risk.
This includes buying whole head lettuce rather than mixed produce, as this has not been subjected to the large number of machines that reduce the risk of contamination.
They also said it was worth removing the outer leaves from the greens before eating them, as this is where most of the bad bacteria would be.
Cheese and cold cuts
Number of deaths: 7
Number of diseases: 409
Outbreaks and Amount Recovered: 122 and 16,925,594 lbs.
Listeria can be accidentally introduced into prepared foods via contaminated meat or cheese.
Once there, bacteria are adept at surviving cool, moist conditions which means they will thrive and begin to spread between produce. Handling foods helps spread them between foods.
Listeria is particularly dangerous, with 90 percent of those infected ending up in hospital. In pregnant women, the infection can lead to miscarriage or death.
In an outbreak late last year linked to deli meats, one person died and 13 others were hospitalized as well as a pregnant woman who miscarried.
To reduce the risk of listeria infection, Consumer Reports has recommended avoiding prepared food counters altogether.
They said the meat in it is often a “dietary nightmare” being high in salt and made from processed meat – which has been linked to cancer and heart disease.
To further reduce exposure, they also recommended buying packaged pre-cooked meats instead as this reduces the risk of infection.
Number of deaths: 2
Number of diseases: 643
Outbreaks and Amount Recovered: 22, 13,744,438 lbs.
Ground beef came third on the list of foods most likely to make someone sick, with two deaths and 643 related illnesses since 2017.
Researchers have warned that bacteria found in the guts of cows – Escherichia coli and salmonella – could get into their meat.
This can happen with steaks, but the bacteria is usually outside and is killed quickly during cooking.
But with processed meat, bacteria can end up anywhere within ground meat — which is often made up of several animals.
To avoid illness, Consumer Reports said ground beef needs to be fully cooked to ensure any lurking bacteria are killed.
They also suggest keeping meat in bags inside the fridge and a separate cutting board for meat and vegetables.
Meat should be stored at an added 40 F (4 C) to limit bacterial growth while frozen foods should be thawed in the refrigerator.
Number of deaths: None since 2017
Number of diseases: 2167
Outbreaks and Amount Recovered: 13, 78,015,814 lbs.
Onions are often added to meals as a way to increase volume, texture or taste for some people.
But research by Consumer Reports found that seemingly innocuous vegetables were the fourth most likely food to make someone sick.
Their report found that it was behind the most cases of food poisoning since 2017 of all the items on the list, with about 78 million pounds of onions required to be recalled.
As with leafy greens, they can become contaminated with salmonella after being irrigated with water containing wild bird droppings.
In 2020 and 2021, two large recalls of red, white and yellow onions had to be called for due to salmonella contamination.
Consumer Reports said that in most cases, salmonella dies during cooking.
But, in the interest of further avoiding bacteria, they said, shoppers should not buy bruised onions — because the damage makes it easier for bacteria to enter the vegetable.
They also suggest not washing onions if you don’t intend to cook them for hours, as this can help drive bacteria growth. This should be done just before cooking.
Chicken and turkey
Number of deaths: 3
Number of diseases: 588
Outbreaks and Amount Recovered: 8, 584,711 lbs
Also on the list are chicken and turkey due to previous recalls due to salmonella contamination.
This microorganism lives in the guts of birds and can be transmitted between them through contact with droppings.
They often survive among the birds thanks to the dirty and crowded conditions in which they are raised and can then contaminate the carrion as it is being processed in the factory.
The bacteria is a known danger to birds and is already accepted by the USDA up to a certain standard.
Their guidelines state that salmonella could be in 9.8 percent of chicken tested, 15.4 percent of chicken parts and 25 percent of ground chicken.
Salmonella can be killed when chicken or turkey is heated during cooking.
But to further reduce feathering, Consumer Reports says not to wash any poultry before cooking.
They said this could wash any salmonella on them into the sink which could then be transferred to other foods.
Number of deaths: 2
Number of diseases: 332
Outbreaks and Amount Recovered: 12, 600,974 lbs
Papaya came in at number seven on the list, which is most often imported into the United States from Mexico.
This fruit can be contaminated with salmonella by irrigation systems frequented by waterfowl.
Previous investigations have shown that papaya can also be contaminated in factories.
They may be washed in water that contains very little chlorine, providing an opportunity for bacteria to spread, or factories may continue to reuse pallets that may have been contaminated.
Consumer Reports said it’s best to avoid pre-cut papaya to reduce the risk of catching salmonella from the fruit.
Number of deaths: 0 since 2017
Number of diseases: 101
Outbreaks and Amount Recovered: 6, 113,062,324 lbs.
Peaches ranked eighth on the list of foods most likely to make you sick.
The researchers said the fruits are often grown near animals, which increases the risk of bacteria such as salmonella landing on their surfaces.
During processing in factories where the fruits are sliced, they can then be transferred to their flesh, causing diseases.
An FDA investigation in 2020 led to a recall of 113 million pounds of peaches after they were found to have been grown in orchards near animal fattening.
Tests conducted by the agency revealed the presence of salmonella in the animal pens and on the fruit in the orchard.
They suggested that the bacteria may have reached the fruits by irrigation or that dust picked them up in the air and “blown” them.
Consumer Reports recommends avoiding buying sliced peaches to reduce the risk of infection.
Number of deaths: 0 since 2017
Number of diseases: 302
Outbreaks and quantities recalled: 4, 279,205 Retail Units, 946 one-gallon tubs of melon balls and pieces
For cantaloupe and other melons, the researchers said that contamination tends to occur when the fruits are prepared.
They said there might be salmonella on the skin on the outside of the fruit.
But when the fruits are cut into cups or balls before selling, this risks transferring bacteria to the pieces – increasing the risk of disease.
Consumer Reports recommends avoiding pre-cut melons or other melons.
Number of deaths: 0 since 2017
Number of diseases: 44
Outbreaks and quantities recovered: 22 and no unit given
Harmless flour used in cake and muffin mixes and ready-made cake mixes has also been added to the list.
And a survey of recalls by Consumer Reports found that they have been linked to about 22 outbreaks of E. coli and salmonella since 2017.
These bacteria are commonly found in the guts and droppings of animals.
But as the wheat grows in the field, that can reach the surface of the grain either through contaminated water or the droppings of wild animals, such as deer and birds.
When the grains are ground into flour, the bacteria are not killed but end up being mixed into the mixture.
Consumer Reports said that when flour is cooked before consumption, bacteria are killed and infection averted.
But they said that to reduce the risk, people should also avoid eating raw, homemade dough or batter. This is not cooked yet and could contain salmonella.
They also suggest keeping fresh, ready-to-eat produce away from flour, as this could transfer bacteria.