The ten foods in your shopping cart that are most likely to make you sick have been revealed.
Researchers at Consumer Reports ranked regularly purchased foods based on how many outbreaks, deaths and illnesses they had caused since 2017. Their list included more than 200million units of recalls and 5,000 food poisoning outbreaks.
They found that leafy greens were the worst offenders, alongside cheeses and deli meats, ground beef and chicken and turkey.
But there were also some surprises — including onions and flour — with researchers saying outbreaks in these products were linked to contaminated irrigation water.
Brian Ronholm, the director of food policy at the New York-based group, said: ‘We aren’t saying people need to avoid these foods entirely. After all, these foods are all usually safe and many of them are in fact important parts of a healthy diet.
Pictured above are the ten foods most likely to make you sick, according to researchers
‘But the list underscores the importance of following best food safety practices with all of your foods, including knowing how to track, and respond, to food recalls as they happen.’
Food poisoning outbreaks are often reported in the US. About 48million Americans fall sick from salmonella, listeria and E.coli picked up in foods every year.
Most recover on their own after a few unpleasant days, but nearly 130,000 were hospitalized and 3,000 died from foodborne illnesses annually.
Children under five years old, older people and pregnant women are at greatest risk beause they have a weaker immune system.
Below is the list of foods most likely to make you sick:
Number of deaths: 11
Number of illnesses: 614
Outbreaks and amount recalled: 50 and 4,390,638 cases.
Leafy Greens came top of the list for foods that are most likely to make you sick after consumption.
They were behind the most deaths out of all the items on the list and the second highest number of outbreaks — behind only cheese and deli meat.
Researchers said that lettuces, arugula, kale and others tend to get contaminated by dirty irrigation water.
Cows hold billions of dangerous bacteria like E.coli and listeria in their guts. When the animals defecate, these are released onto the soil where they can be washed into the groundwater supply.
These ‘dirty’ waters can then be sucked up by machines and used to irrigate crops, spraying the bacteria directly onto greens.
Contamination can also happen during packaging, researchers said, because should the bacteria get onto machinery it can quickly be spread to many leafy greens.
There are also few packaging centers in the salad industry, raising the risk of widespread contamination.
It is likely that machinery contamination was behind the 2021 outbreak, when a major recall by Dole saw 76 products recalled while Fresh Express had to recall more than 100 products.
Farmers in California and Arizona — where most US greens are grown — are trying to reduce the risk by grazing cattle away from their greensfields.
But Consumer Reports said there are also several steps consumers can take to limit their risk of infection.
This includes buying whole-head lettuce instead of mixed products, because this has not been exposed to as much machinery cutting the risk of contamination.
They said it would also be worth removing the outer leaves on greens before eating them, as this is where most bad bacteria will be lurking.
Cheese and deli meat
Number of deaths: 7
Number of illnesses: 409
Outbreaks and amount recalled: 122 and 16,925,594lbs
Listeria can be accidentally introduced to delis by a contaminated meat or cheese.
Once there, the bacteria is adept at surviving in cool and damp conditions meaning it will flourish and start to spread between products. Handling the foods further helps it spread between foods.
Listeria is particularly dangerous, with 90 percent of people infected ending up in hospital. In pregnant women, an infection can lead to miscarriage or deaths.
In an outbreak late last year linked to deli meat, one person died and another 13 were hospitalized as well as a pregnant woman who miscarried.
To limit the risk of catching listeria, Consumer Reports recommended avoiding deli counters altogether.
They said the meats in them are often ‘nutritional nightmares’ being high in salt and made of processed meat — linked to cancer and heart disease.
To further limit exposure, they also recommended buying pre-packaged cooked meats instead as this limits the risk of infection.
Number of deaths: 2
Number of illnesses: 643
Outbreaks and amount recalled: 22 and 13,744,438lbs
Ground beef came third on the list of foods most likely to make someone ill, with two deaths and 643 illnesses linked to it since 2017.
Bacteria within cows guts — E.coli and salmonella — can get into their meat, researchers warned.
This can happen with steaks, but the bacteria is usually on the outside and is quickly killed during cooking.
But with processed meat the bacteria can end up anywhere within the mince — which is often made up of several animals.
To avoid illness, Consumer Reports said the ground beef would need to be entirely cooked through to ensure any lurking bacteria were killed.
They also suggested keeping meats in bags within the refrigerator and to have a separate chopping board for meat and vegetables.
The meat should be stored at 40F (4C) they added in order to limit bacteria growth while frozen foods should be thawed in a refrigerator.
Number of deaths: None since 2017
Number of illnesses: 2,167
Outbreaks and amount recalled: 13 and 78,015,814lbs
Onions are often added to meals as a way to increase their volume, texture or, for some people, flavor.
But research by Consumer Reports found the seemingly benign vegetable was the fourth most likely food to make someone ill.
Their report found that it was behind the most food poisoning cases since 2017 out of all items on the list, with some 78million lbs of onions having to be recalled.
Like with leafy greens, they can get contaminated with salmonella after they are irrigated with water that contains droppings from wild birds.
In 2020 and 2021, two large recalls of red, white and yellow onions had to be called because of contamination with salmonella.
Consumer Reports said that in most cases the salmonella is killed during cooking.
But they said that in order to further avoid the bacteria, shoppers should not purchase bruised onions — because the damage makes it easier for bacteria to enter the vegetable.
They also suggested not washing onions if you are not going to cook them for hours, because this can help drive the growth of bacteria. This should only be done just before cooking.
Chicken and Turkey
Number of deaths: 3
Number of illnesses: 588
Outbreaks and amount recalled: 8 and 584,711lbs
Also on the list were chicken and turkey due to previous recalls over contaimination with salmonella.
This micro-organism lives in the guts of the birds and can be transferred between them via contact with droppings.
It often lives among the birds thanks to the filthy and crowded conditions that they are reared in and can then contaminate carcasses while they are processed in a factory.
The bacteria is a known risk with the birds and is actually accepted by the US Department of Agriculture up to a certain level.
Their guidelines state that salmonella can be in up to 9.8 percent of chickens tested, 15.4 percent of chicken parts and 25 percent of ground chicken.
Salmonella can be killed when chicken or turkey are heated during cooking.
But to further limit rish, Consumer Reports says not to wash any poultry before cooking.
They said this could wash any salmonella on them onto the sink which can then be transferred into other foods.
Number of deaths: 2
Number of illnesses: 332
Outbreaks and amount recalled: 12 and 600,974lbs
Coming seventh on the list were papayas that are often imported into the United States from Mexico.
These fruits can become contaminated with salmonella via irrigation systems that are frequented by waterfowl.
Previous investigations showed that the papayas could also be contaminated in factories.
They may be washed in water containing too little chlorine, providing an opportunity for the bacteria to spread, or factories may keep reusing pallets that could have become contaminated.
Consumer Reports said it was best to avoid pre-cut papaya in order to limit the risk of catching salmonella from the fruit.
Number of deaths: 0 since 2017
Number of illnesses: 101
Outbreaks and amount recalled: 6 and 113,062,324lbs
Peaches ranked eighth on the list of foods in your shopping cart most likely to make you sick.
Researchers said this was likely because the fruits are often grown near animal feedlots, providing ample opportunity for bacteria like salmonella to spread to them.
An investigation by the FDA in 2020 into an outbreak of nearly 113million lbs of the fruit found that the peach orchards were near animal feedlots and that some tested positive for salmonella strains previously seen in cattle and poultry.
They suggest, however, that the bacteria could also have spread via the wind which picked up dust and deposited it on crops.
Like with papayas, to limit your risk Consumer Reports recommends avoiding chopped versions of the fruit.
Number of deaths: 0 since 2017
Number of illnesses: 302
Outbreaks and amount recalled: 4 and 279,205 ‘retail units’ and 946 one gallon tubs of cantaloupe balls and chunks
For cantaloupes and other melons, the researchers said contamination tends to happen when the fruits are prepared.
There may be salmonella on the skin on the outside of the fruit, but this will not be able to penetrate within.
However, when the fruits are cut into cubes or balls before sale this risks the bacteria being transferred onto the flesh — causing illness.
To avoid this, Consumer Reports recommends not purchasing pre-cut cantaloupes or other melons.
Number of deaths: 0 since 2017
Number of illnesses: 44
Outbreaks and amount recalled: 22 and no unit given
Another surprise in the Consumer Reports top ten list was flour.
As many as 22 outbreaks were recorded since 2017 linked to uncooked flower, mixes used for cookies, brownies and cakes and premade cake batter.
The contamination of the food was linked to E.coli and salmonella, which are often found in animal’s guts and droppings.
The researchers suggested that in wheat fields, crops can become contaminated with the bacteria via water from livestock or wild animal droppings, notably from deer and birds.
When the grains are milled into flour, this breaks them into a fine powder but does not kill the bacteria.
Normally flour is cooked before consumption, removing the risk of infection by killing the bacteria.
But Consumer Reports said that in order to further limit your risk it would be ideal to avoid eating raw homemade dough or batter.
They also said that flour and baking mixes should be kept away from all ready-to-eat foods like fresh produce, both when buying in a supermarket and storing at home, in order to avoid contamination.