This Is the New No. 1 Cause of Food Poisoning, CDC Study Says


It's common knowledge that handling or preparing certain foods the wrong way can get you pretty sick if you eat them after. Typically, this involves washing fruit and veggies before cooking them, storing items at the appropriate temperature, and being sure to clean surfaces and your hands when they've been in contact with raw ingredients. But now, a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has uncovered that there may be some new surprising items in your kitchen that could lead to food poisoning.

The comprehensive research, released in the CDC's Emerging Infectious Diseases journal on Sept. 8, examined data from the Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System (FDOSS) that is used to collect reports of foodborne disease outbreaks from federal, state, local, and territorial health departments across the United States. Researchers tabulated outbreaks recorded between 2007 and 2016, which they describe as "nationally notifiable and defined as two or more cases of a similar illness resulting from ingestion of the same food." Items that were the source of outbreaks were then compared with outbreak data from 1973 to 2006 to determine which "novel" foods were responsible for reported illnesses in more recent years.

Results found that there were 36 outbreaks linked to 28 novel foods between 2007 and 2016, with the largest involving 272 illnesses reported across 45 states. The most commonly reported foodborne pathogens were salmonella and E. coli, which were responsible for 53 percent and 14 percent of cases, respectively. The agency also noted that 33 percent of the outbreaks were caused by foods imported from another country, half did not require refrigeration after purchase, and two-thirds did not require cooking before consumption.

According to experts, such findings could mean that it may be ultimately tricky or impossible to remove the risk of foodborne illness altogether from some of the items on the list. "I think the main takeaway is to continue practicing good food safety and to be aware of where the foods are coming from," Jennifer Cholewka, the advanced clinical coordinator of metabolic and nutrition support at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, told NBC's Today. "You want to make sure the foods you are purchasing are as fresh as possible."

So, which items made the list? Read on to see the newest foods found to cause food poisoning most often, according to the CDC.

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Number of food items that caused outbreaks: 3

Everyone knows how important it is to properly handle your beef, pork, and chicken when preparing them for a meal. But according to the CDC's study, bison, frog, and goose meat were all "novel" foods responsible for outbreaks.

While waterfowl like geese and red meat like bison may be obvious red flags for food poisoning, it may come as a surprise that frogs are considered a high-risk food item. "Essentially, all amphibians are contaminated, often with salmonella," Cynthia Sears, MD, an infectious disease specialist and professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told Today. "Eating any amphibian that is not thoroughly cooked is a risk."


Number of food items that caused outbreaks: 3

Vegetables are a vital part of a healthy diet, but they can still harm your body if they're not cleaned properly before consumption. The study found that kale, lima beans, and mini peppers were items that had been responsible for novel outbreaks of foodborne illnesses.

To be on the safe side while preparing produce, both the CDC and FDA recommend cutting out any parts of your fruits or vegetables that appear to be bruised or otherwise damaged. "Bruises and cuts may allow pathogens to enter a fruit or vegetable, and damaged produce typically spoils faster," Rebecca Dittmar, coordinator of the Food Protection Management Program at the Texas A&M University College of Agriculture & Life Sciences explained in an interview with AgriLife Today.

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Number of food items that caused outbreaks: 4

From berries to bananas, fruits are an essential part of a balanced diet that can be as delicious at breakfast as they are as an after-dinner dessert. However, just because your fruit arrives frozen or processed doesn't mean you're in the clear when it comes to potential food poisoning risks.

The study found that apples, blueberries, papaya, and pomegranate were all responsible for outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. According to Claire Panosian Dunavan, MD, a professor of medicine emeritus in the division of infectious diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, the pomegranates noted in the study were linked to a frozen drink mix that used fruits imported from all over the world.

"Smoothies are one of the foods that people can get into trouble with," she told Today. "Freezing doesn't kill salmonella or norovirus or various other viruses."

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Number of food items that caused outbreaks: 6

Nuts and seeds are an unsung hero of the dietary world, providing plenty of nourishment as a powerful snack option, an addition to salads, or part of a recipe. But they can also sneakily create a high-risk situation for food poisoning as an item that rarely gets washed during preparation. According to the study, novel foods responsible for outbreaks included pistachios, pine nuts, hazelnuts, and sprouted nuts.

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Number of food items that caused outbreaks: 6

Fish may be a fantastic option for healthy eating, but it's also widely known to be a finicky ingredient when it comes to freshness. Unfortunately, according to the CDC, five of the six outbreaks counted in the study were "caused by naturally occurring toxins that cannot be destroyed through cooking or freezing," meaning the ingredients were risky without even being mishandled. The report lists almaco jack, carp, lionfish, monchong, skate, and swai as sources of reported illnesses.