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Forget Dr. Oz's Apple Juice, Look at FDA Top 10 Riskiest Foods

Tim Boyer's picture
Dr. Oz on Apple Juice

Dr. Oz’s apple juice claim of dangerous levels of arsenic in the apple juice that we feed to our children has raised a significant amount of concern and confusion over just what is safe and what is not. The Food and Drug Administration has just released information countering arsenic claims made by Dr. Oz, and reassures the public that apple juice is safe. However, when it comes to what is safe and what is not, few realize that the FDA provides info everyday of warnings about risky foods we eat on a daily basis that makes any concerns about apple juice look like kid’s stuff in comparison. According to a report made by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), there are 10 common foods that the public should be aware about that are regulated by the FDA and are known to cause major illnesses.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is a non-profit organization devoted to being a consumer advocate on matters of health and nutrition. Their mission statement says that, “The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is a consumer advocacy organization whose twin missions are to conduct innovative research and advocacy programs in health and nutrition, and to provide consumers with current, useful information about their health and well-being.” Among a long list of accomplishments, the CSPI is known for its work in encouraging Congress to enact a mandatory calorie labeling on menus and menu boards at chain restaurants.

In a report titled “The Ten Riskiest Foods Regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration” created by The Center for Science in the Public Interest, the reader is alerted to the fact that the majority of foodborne illnesses often go undiagnosed and unreported. According to the report, the CDC estimates that for each case of salmonella poisoning that is clinically diagnosed and reported to health officials, another 38 cases go unreported. The report contends that as a result, unsafe food results in tens of millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths every year in the United States.

Top Ten Riskiest Foods

Listed below is a summary of the top ten foods the public should be aware about in order to protect themselves from becoming a victim of foodborne-illness. Illnesses caused by these top ten foods range from minor stomach cramping and diarrhea to kidney failure and death.

1. Leafy Greens: Contact with both wild and farm animals, manure, unsanitary water or poor handling practices during harvest can cause bacterial contamination of leafy green vegetables. Once contaminated, the leafy greens can spread pathogens to other plants and eventually onto restaurant and home kitchens. According to the CSPI, they have identified 363 separate outbreaks linked to leafy greens, making them the number one riskiest food in the FDA’s Top Ten. Green leafy foods to look out for include salad fixings such as iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, leaf lettuce, butter lettuce, baby leaf lettuce, escarole, endive, spring mix, spinach, cabbage, kale, arugula and chard.

2. Shell Eggs: Shell eggs are well known for their risk of Salmonella poisoning and as a result require careful handling and cleaning at home to remove waste-derived Salmonella that originated from the intestinal tracts of chickens. However, what many do not know is that there is another type of Salmonella called Salmonella enteritidis that infects the ovaries of hens and contaminates the eggs before the shells are formed. Washing the outside of such eggs does not offer protection; rather, cooking at the proper temperatures must be done. Therefore, serving runny eggs or leaving cooked eggs out for prolonged periods on a buffet table are invitations for gastronomical disaster.

3. Tuna: While mercury is a common concern with eating Tuna, Scombroid is an illness caused by the toxin scombrotoxin and is the most common cause of illness related to tuna dishes. What happens is that some fish decay very quickly after being caught and begin to release natural toxins as part of their spoilage process. These toxins are very dangerous to humans and can cause skin flushing, headaches, abdominal cramps, nausea, diarrhea, palpitations and loss of vision. Tuna requires immediate refrigeration below 60 degrees Fahrenheit to slow the spoiling process. But once released, the toxin cannot be inactivated by cooking, freezing, smoking or canning. Choosing a fish wisely at the market is your best defense against scombroid poisoning.

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4. Oysters: When served raw or undercooked, oysters can cause an inflammation of the stomach and small or large intestines However, one of the most dangerous pathogens found in oysters is a type of bacteria called Vibrio that is related to cholera. According to the CSPI report, one strain of Vibrio called Vibrio vulnificus can enter the bloodstream of immuno-compromised individuals or people with liver disease and cause a severe and life-threatening illness characterized by fever and chills, decreased blood pressure and blistering of the skin. Vibrio vulnificus bloodstream infections are fatal approximately 50% of the time.

5. Potatoes: Illnesses linked to potatoes are commonly the result of contaminated cold dishes such as potato salads, which consist of several other pathogen-friendly food ingredients like mayonnaise and eggs. However, Shigella and Listeria monocytogenes also appear in potato-related outbreaks and are typically associated with transmission from an infected person to a food product during food preparation and handling. Listeria is a hardy bacterium that can survive on deli counters and other kitchen areas where food preparation takes place.

6. Cheese: Salmonella poisoning is the most common hazard of cheese due to pathogen contamination. It occurs typically during the early phases of production, which includes curdling, molding and salting. Milk-borne pathogens are typically avoided through the use of pasteurized milk in cheese making; however, cheese from unpasteurized milk is a common problem by unlicensed manufacturers in Latin America. Latin American-style cheeses such as queso fresco, queso oaxaca, and others should be consumed only if from a licensed manufacturer. In addition, pregnant women should also be particularly cautious about consumption of soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined, and Mexican-style cheeses that may carry Listeria. Listeriosis can cause symptomless miscarriages.

7. Ice cream: As a dairy product, ice cream is particularly susceptible to cross-contamination. In 1994 a popular ice cream producer hauled raw, unpasteurized eggs and pasteurized ice cream premix in the same truck resulting in a Salmonella contamination that made thousands of people sick in 41 states. In addition, Listeria can live in the interior of soft serve ice cream machines.

8. Tomatoes: When it comes to fruits, raw tomatoes top the list with Salmonella poisoning. Salmonella in garden soil from animal waste used as fertilizer can enter tomato plants through their roots or flowers and then enter the fruit via small cracks in the tomato’s skin or stem scar. Once inside, the risk of Salmonella poisoning is very high unless the tomatoes are cooked.

9. Sprouts: Many strains of Salmonella and bacteria have been linked to food poisoning with dishes containing sprouts. Sprouts carry the same risks as leafy vegetable due to that they are typically served raw or lightly cooked. Sprout seed contamination during storage and during growth in warm humid conditions are among the most common reasons why sprouts pose such a problem. Today, some producers place warning labels on containers of sprouts.

10. Berries: Typically served raw, berries are responsible for many cases of food poisoning. In 1997, contaminated strawberries were recalled after reports of thousands of cases of food poisoning from frozen strawberries in school lunches. The food poisoning was from Hepatitis A contamination and is believed to have originated from an infected worker at a farm in Baja California, Mexico. Cyclospora-contaminated raspberries imported from Guatemala and Chile that same year also resulted in many cases of severe diarrhea, dehydration and stomach cramps that required large scale antibiotic treatments.

Source: Center for Science in the Public Interest report http://cspinet.org/new/pdf/cspi_top_10_fda.pdf