Which Foods Most Often Cause Food Poisoning?
Food poisoning is no fun, but it is fairly common: "According to the CDC, one in six Americans [or 48 million people] get sick from food poisoning each year. While most people recover quickly, some are at higher risk for more serious illness including older adults, young children (under five years), pregnant people, and those who have a weakened immune system," says Paula Doebrich, R.D.N., M.P.H., owner of Happea Nutrition. The good news, as Doebrich puts it, is that with proper personal hygiene and paying attention to food temperatures, food poisoning is preventable. Echoing Doebrich, Jae Pak, M.D., of Jae Pak Medical, says that the best ways to prevent noroviruses, the leading cause of foodborne illness, "are to practice good hand hygiene, wash fruits and vegetables, and cook seafood thoroughly."
Below, our experts share four extremely common sources of food poisoning. As always, consult with your doctor or trusted healthcare professional if you think you have symptoms of food poisoning.
Raw Meat and Poultry
"Raw meat and poultry often carry bacteria such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, E.coli or Clostridium perfringens. These bacteria are killed with proper cooking, however it is very important to always use separate cutting boards for meat and poultry and other foods to avoid cross-contamination," says Doebrich. "You should also never wash raw meat or poultry, as this spreads the bacteria to other foods and surfaces." Another important tip? "To ensure the meat is properly cooked, get a cooking thermometer and familiarize yourself with safe temperatures for each type of meat," Doebrich adds; you can consult government guidelines for safe minimum cooking temperatures, too.
"Rice (and other grain products) can be contaminated with spores of Bacillus cereus," Doebrich explains. "The spores of these bacteria can survive the cooking process and multiply quickly as rice and other grain products are left out at room temperature." That's why it's so important to ensure all grain products are held at a high temperature (above 135°F) or cooled down to below 30°F quickly. "Never leave cooked grain products out at room temperature for more than two hours," she stresses.
"Fish and seafood can carry bacteria, including Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, Shigella and Vibrio bacteria," says Doebrich. To avoid getting sick, Doebrich shares the following guidelines: Fish should have a mild smell. When shopping for seafood, an excessively fishy or sour smell means the fish may not be fresh. What's more, the eyes of a whole fish should be clear, their grills should be red, and the flesh should feel firm. If you're shopping for filets, know that they're fresh if the flesh springs back when pressed. Other signs of freshness include firm flesh, red blood lines, and no discoloration or drying around the edges.
When purchasing fresh shellfish, avoid any oysters or mussels with a cracked or broken shell. Shrimp and lobster should be clear and should not have a strong odor. If you're buying frozen seafood, avoid packages with frost or ice crystals, which usually means the product has been thawed and refrozen. Also avoid any frozen products that seem "soft" as this means the temperature was not low enough to keep the food frozen.
One more thing to note: "The bad odor of spoiled fish and seafood gets worse with cooking. If you smell anything fishy, sour, or rancid, it's best to discard the food," Doebrich says. "Always make sure to cook fish and seafood thoroughly, and never leave cooked fish and seafood out at room temperature for more than two hours."
Foods Left at Room Temperature for More Than Two Hours
Are you guilty of this one? It's time to stop with this practice immediately. "Any food left out at room temperature for longer than two hours becomes hazardous. Room temperature is the perfect breeding ground for most bacteria," says Doebrich. "The golden rule is to refrigerate all leftovers in under two hours of cooking or discard the food. When handling leftovers, it is recommended to split big amounts of food among small, shallow containers before placing them in the fridge, as this allows for quicker cooling of the food," she continues, stressing that the containers should be airtight and leftovers should be consumed within three days.
We know getting to all your post-entertaining leftovers in three days can be tough, so befriend your freezer—freezing food extends its shelf life. "Keep in mind that even frozen foods can go bad," says Doebrich. "It's recommended to consume frozen leftovers within three-to-four months."
What to Do When You Have Food Poisoning
"In most cases, food poisoning will cause diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and some other symptoms depending on the germ," says Doebrich. Many people recover on their own, she notes, but some may require medical attention. "If you have a high fever (over 102°F), dizziness, and other signs of dehydration (very dry mouth, little to no urination, headache), bloody diarrhea, or diarrhea that lasts more than three days, you should see a doctor. You may need fluid replacement and, in some cases, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic."
For those recovering at home, Doebrich says to make sure you are replacing fluids and electrolytes, getting plenty of rest, and eating foods rich in probiotics once you recover, such as yogurt and kefir to start, and then sauerkraut and tempeh once tolerated. "For prebiotics, which feed the good bacteria in the stomach, I also suggest including high fiber foods like bananas and other fruits or vegetables as well as oats or other whole grains," she adds.