I used to be a happy person. But then I took a FOODSAFE course. This certification course is recommended in my province for anybody who handles, prepares or serves food. It’s very educational, but once you’ve watched those ominous “What Went Wrong?” course videos (about hapless party guests dropping like flies from eating tainted crême caramel), you can become just a wee bit paranoid about foodborne illnesses, often for the rest of your natural life.
That’s why the following basic list of foods to avoid is extremely important.
Food poisoning occurs when you eat food that contains harmful bacteria, parasites, or viruses. It can be severe and sometimes fatal. In fact, The American Society of Clinical Oncology website warns:
“Foodborne illnesses can be particularly severe if a person has a weakened immune system from cancer treatment or chronic illness like heart disease, or is very old, very young, or pregnant.”
Food can become contaminated when someone infected with a virus (often a norovirus) or other ‘bug’ handles the food. Raw foods are a common cause of foodborne illness. Proper cooking can destroy bacteria, but they can grow even on cooked food if left out too long. Some bacteria, such as listeria, can grow even on foods stored in the refrigerator over time.
That’s what happened last summer when listeriosis killed 22 people of the 57 affected by eating tainted cold cuts produced at a Maple Leaf meat processing plant in Toronto.
In fact, ASCO recommends that you avoid some foods entirely, even if you may have eaten them with no problem in the past, particularly if you have a weakened immune system.
Here are some foods that can become easily tainted with bacteria, such as listeria (causing the infection called listeriosis), E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Vibrio, in addition to Toxoplasma, a parasite. Are some of these foods surprising to you?
- Cold hot dogs or deli lunch meat (cold cuts)—always cook or reheat until the food is steaming hot
- Dry-cured, uncooked salami
- Unpasteurized (raw) milk and milk products, including raw milk yogurt
- Soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk, such as blue-veined (a type of blue cheese), Brie, Camembert, feta, goat cheese, and queso fresco or blanco
- Cold smoked fish
- Deli-prepared salads with egg, ham, chicken, or seafood
- Refrigerated pâté
- Unwashed fresh fruit and vegetables
- Unpasteurized fruit juice or cider
- Raw sprouts, such as alfalfa sprouts
- Raw or undercooked beef, especially ground beef, or other raw or undercooked meat and poultry
- Raw or undercooked shellfish (such as oysters)—these items may carry the hepatitis A virus and should be cooked thoroughly to destroy the virus
- Some types of fish, raw or cooked, as it may contain high levels of mercury
- Sushi and sashimi, which often contain raw fish—commercially frozen fish (especially those labeled “sushi-grade” or “sashimi grade”) is safer than other fish, but check with your doctor before eating these foods
- Undercooked eggs, such as soft boiled, over-easy, and poached; raw unpasteurized eggs, or foods made with raw egg, such as homemade raw cookie dough
Symptoms of foodborne illnesses differ depending on the pathogen or bug that causes the illness. FOODSAFE instructors warn that if you’ve ever had what you called the “24-hour flu” – you likely had food poisoning instead. Symptoms include:
- stomach pain or cramps
Sometimes a headache and muscle pains also are present. E. coli usually does not cause a fever, and diarrhea often is bloody. The time when symptoms begin can vary widely, from a few hours to 10 days after eating the tainted food, or even later. With listeria, symptoms may not start until a few weeks later.
But with most foodborne illnesses, people start feeling sick in the first day or two after infection.
Find out more about food safety and how to prevent foodborne illnesses, or about how to take the FOODSAFE certification course online. See also: “10 Food/Bacteria Combos That Can Make You Very, Very Sick” from my other site, The Ethical Nag: Marketing Ethics For The Easily Swayed.
Have you ever had food poisoning?