Foods: friend or foe?

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: December 14th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Mom always told you to eat your leafy greens if you wanted to grow up big and strong. So she might not like the news from a nonprofit group that recently performed a study of the foods most likely to make you sick. Yes, that’s right … the nutritionist’s best friend, leafy greens, tops the list.

Other offenders? Vitamin-rich tomatoes and berries.

So how did these foods go from super healthy to super scary?

Researchers analyzed data collected since 1990 to identify the foods regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that caused the largest number of foodborne illness outbreaks. The ten riskiest were: leafy greens, eggs, tuna, oysters, potatoes, cheese, ice cream, tomatoes, sprouts and berries. More than one-thousand-five-hundred separate, definable outbreaks that caused more than fifty-thousand illnesses were linked to these ten foods. The illnesses ranged from upset stomachs to long-term disability and even death.

What makes these foods dangerous? It’s the presence of bacteria, such as E. coli and salmonella. In fact, salmonella was the number one offender in these cases, causing more than thirty-three percent of the illnesses.

Unfortunately, the foods listed in the study are also some of the healthiest. So how should you protect yourself? Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stress proper food handling. That means cleaning produce before eating it, and being sure to wash your hands afterward. Cook foods to their proper temperature to kill bacteria. Chill leftovers immediately to avoid bacteria growth.

With a little more effort, you can continue to safely eat those leafy greens, just like mom always wanted.