10 Hospitalized Due to Food Poisoning: Experts Say These 4 Grocery Store Foods Are Just Too Risky
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Recent headlines about food poisoning in a Chicago neighborhood serve as a reminder that certain grocery store foods carry more risk than you might realize.
Last month, 10 people were hospitalized after at least 20 became ill from salmonella that appeared to be linked to prepared food at a grocery store in Chicago.
Food safety experts say there are actually four foods that grocery shoppers should stop buying to reduce their risk of food poisoning.
Kali Kniel, a microbiologist at the University of Delaware, and Dr. Bryan Quoc Le, a Washington-based food chemist and industry consultant, revealed to the Huffington Post that certain items such as raw sprouts, raw/unpasteurized milk, pre-cut produce, and food served at hot bars aren't necessarily safe to consume. Here's why.
While raw milk advocates say they prefer it because certain health benefits get destroyed by pasteurization, it also comes with some serious risks.
Safety experts say they do not buy unpasteurized milk because it can be contaminated with pathogenic microbes.
It may not look or smell different than pasteurized milk, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, raw milk may contain harmful germs like Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, Brucella, and more.
"Although it is possible to purchase raw, unpasteurized milk in some states, I recommend people not consume it," said Kniel.
"There are a lot of people who tout [raw] milk as having all these health benefits, but it's just not worth the risk because there are a lot of pathogenic organisms that are still alive in that milk, especially if it's coming straight from a processing facility," Le advised.
Raw sprouts are sometimes touted for their health benefits such as improving digestion by aiding in gut health and reducing intestinal gas.
But Le and Kniel steer clear of the greens because they can also carry Salmonella, Listeria, and E.coli.
If you like sprouts, the CDC recommends cooking them until they are "steaming hot" to kill germs and reduce your risk for food poisoning.
Although pre-cut produce is convenient, these types of fruits or vegetables can sometimes contain bacteria.
That's why food safety experts advise shoppers to be leery of pre-cut produce found in containers.
"If you're going to eat pre-cut produce raw, you are dealing with the same amount of microbial risk as you would with sprouts," Le said. "That's because I don't know what the person behind the counter has done while cutting the produce and what practices they implement. Packaged food, by law, has to go through a stringent process but food that has been produced on-site doesn't necessarily."
The CDC recommends keeping the pre-cut produce cold or refrigerating it at least two hours after purchasing it.
Kniel specifically warned shoppers about pre-cut melons explaining that they are the "most susceptible" to contamination.
He explains that the fruit grows on the ground which means it can soak and trap infected water throughout its harvesting process. Melon rinds also allow pathogens to stick to them more easily.
Hot Food Bars
Finally, Le and Kniel add that shoppers should approach food bars with caution – especially warmed food bars.
The best times to go are lunch or dinner to ensure that fresh food is being continually rotated instead of sitting out during non-peak hours.
Most importantly, hot food should be maintained at temperatures of 135 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, and cold food should be kept below 41 degrees Fahrenheit.
"If the heating system is questionable, I would avoid the hot food bar," Le advised. "But if it is kept above the proper temperature then you are OK eating it because it can't be contaminated."
Other Food Safety Tips
Le and Kniel warn to stay away from packaged food that smells bad.
"Consumers should look at the integrity of packaged foods to be sure the packages are not compromised in any way," Kniel said.
He added, "In terms of food safety, if a meat or seafood product smells 'bad' or too fishy then it may be spoiled and those should be avoided. Also, check the sell-by dates on the fresh produce packages to help you understand when the quality may start to deteriorate unless you are going to eat it right away. This is good for bagged salads, which actually have a long shelf life."
And if you use reusable shopping bags, experts say you should wash them after and between shopping trips.
Kniel said, "For example, don't place soccer cleats in a bag one day and then fresh produce in it the next day without appropriate cleaning — or just don't do that at all."
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