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.
Many shellfish are filter-feeders, so they strain microbes from sea water throughout their lifetimes. This means that over time, they can accumulate high concentrations of pathogens that were present in their environment. In particular, filter-feeder (especially oysters) have been found to carry a disease agent called Vibrio. Vibrio infection can result in diarrhea, septicemia, and wound infections. Cases are rare but increased 75 percent from 2006-2008 to 2013.
"As a food microbiologist, I'd like to eat raw oysters – I grew up eating them – but I don't eat them anymore," says McLandsborough. It's hypothesized that the jump in vibrio infections may merely reflect better monitoring but warming seas are another potential cause.
Credit: Ivan Mikhaylov / Getty Images