Diet & Nutrition
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6 Surprising Foods That Can Make You Sick

Find out some common sources of food-borne illnesses. 

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By Taylor Lupo 

We all know overindulging on junk food can cause an upset stomach, but the healthy, nutritious foods you eat every day, like leafy greens and eggs, can make you sick, too. Food-borne illnesses lurk everywhere—from farm-grown vegetables, to peanut butter. Find out which foods often cause food-borne illness and how to avoid getting sick. 

Potatoes

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Potatoes are a mealtime staple, but can host bacteria like E. coli, C. botulinum and, most commonly, salmonella. In fact, salmonella has been associated with about 30% of all reported potato-related outbreaks. Bacteria found in potatoes can be transferred through soil, but contamination more commonly happens when potato-based dishes, like potato salad, are being prepared. Be sure to wash your potatoes and cook them thoroughly to kill any bad bacteria.

 

 

Sprouts

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Sprouts add protein, fiber and crunch to dishes like stir fry, salads and sandwiches. Good things, right? Only if the sprouts are grown and processed under hygienic conditions. Raw sprouts grown in unsanitary conditions can carry bacteria like E. coli and salmonella, which are responsible for causing diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever in mild cases, and hospitalization in more severe instances. Bacteria thrive in the seeds of the sprouts, which grow in warm and humid conditions. Prevent illness by thoroughly washing and cooking sprouts before eating. People with weakened immune systems, children, older adults and pregnant women should avoid eating raw or lightly cooked sprouts. 

 

Oysters

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Oysters filter feed at the bottom of the ocean, so if the surrounding water is contaminated with bacteria, the oysters can become contaminated, too. The most common food-borne illnesses from oysters are norovirus, which causes stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting, and Vibrio vulnificus, bacteria that cause diarrhea and vomiting in healthy adults, but can result in blood infection in people with weakened immune systems. To avoid oyster-related illnesses, don’t eat uncooked oysters or cooked oysters that may have been contaminated by uncooked shellfish or seafood.

 

Peanut Butter

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Peanut butter can pose a threat to anyone, whether they have a peanut allergy or not. Peanut butter has been the cause of several salmonella outbreaks, one of which affected 714 people across 46 different states. Roasting typically kills the bacteria, so it’s believed that consumers get sick when contamination occurs after roasting.

 

Eggs

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We’ve long been told that raw eggs will make you sick, but is it true? Yes—if the chicken is sick. If a chicken or hen is infected with salmonella, there’s a chance the eggs will be infected, too, through feces or infected reproductive tissue. Salmonella from eggs can be prevented with proper cooking and handling. Be sure to keep eggs refrigerated at all times, cook your eggs thoroughly (no runny yolks!) and don’t leave cooked eggs unrefrigerated for more than two hours.

Leafy Greens

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Dark leafy greens are a source of fiber and vitamins C and K—and sometimes food-borne illness. Runoff from nearby farms, contaminated water or improper handling during processing can sometimes contaminate leafy greens like spinach, arugula, kale or lettuce. Norovirus, E. coli and salmonella have all been linked to greens. A 2013 outbreak infecting more than 600 people in 25 states was linked to one company’s pre-made salads and contaminated cilantro. Soaking, washing and blanching your vegetables in boiling water may help prevent the spread of illness.