We're halfway into 2014, and already there have been nearly 30 recalls by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (which monitors meat, poultry, and eggs) and about 125 food-related recalls from the Food and Drug Administration (which monitors everything else). News reports make recalls seem like an alert for violent illnesses to come, but most recalls are a result of mislabeling – like forgetting an ingredient or calling something "gluten free" when it isn't.
There are plenty of recalls related to nasty pathogens in our food, but those typically only severely impact consumers who are more susceptible to foodborne diseases. "As far as microbiological recalls, pay attention to it if you're at more risk," says Lynne McLandsborough, associate professor of food microbiology at University of Massachusetts Amherst. "If you're immunocompromised, if you're elderly, if you're going to be feeding these items to a child, then you should pay attention."
For the average Joe, cooking each meal thoroughly (a challenge with fruits and veggies) is the easiest way to prevent against foodborne illnesses. Here's a round-up of the most dangerous foods out there, and a few tips for how to enjoy them safely.
Meat may get most of the attention, but produce is the leading cause of foodborne illnesses. Among vegetables, sprouts tend to be the most problematic because the ideal environment for a sprouting seed is also great for growing bacteria. If a sprout seed is contaminated by even a low number of organisms, the bacteria can cling to the roots and growing to large numbers by the time the sprout is ready for harvest. Sprouts have such a serious potential for carrying pathogens that McLandsborough doesn't eat them and people at high risk for Listeria infections – like pregnant women – are advised against consuming them raw.
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