Food and Health: Raw Food Dangers

Sushi

Sushi can have bacteria and parasites like anisakiasis.

Made with lean fish, vegetables, and avocado, sushi can be a good way to get vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. But sushi can have bacteria and parasites like anisakiasis, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain.

Small children, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and people with immune issues should skip raw or undercooked fish. Everyone should also avoid fish that could be high in mercury, like swordfish, bigeye tuna, and shark.

Pork

Raw or undercooked pork can have bacteria like salmonella, E. coli, and listeria.

Raw or undercooked pork can have bacteria like salmonella, E. coli, and listeria. You can get sick from eating pork that hasn't been cooked enough or from cutting boards, countertops, or utensils that touched raw pork. Pork has to be cooked to at least 145 degrees F, then allowed to rest for at least 3 minutes before you serve it.

Oysters

They can carry viruses and bacteria from the water where they live.

They can carry viruses and bacteria from the water where they live. If they aren't well-cooked, they can infect the people who eat them. Oysters can spread an infection called vibriosis, which can make you very sick. They can also spread hepatitis A, a virus that causes liver disease. Fully cook oysters before you eat them.

Ceviche

Ceviche is raw seafood marinated in lime or lemon juice.

Ceviche is raw seafood marinated in lime or lemon juice. Like sushi, there's a chance it can have bacteria and parasites that can cause food poisoning. Skip undercooked or raw fish, especially if you are in a high-risk group, like if you're pregnant, nursing, or have immune problems. Cook seafood to 145 F. Leftover seafood needs to get to 165 F.

Meat Tartare

It's OK if you don't like your meat well done, but it's not safe to go to the other extreme.

It's OK if you don't like your meat well done, but it's not safe to go to the other extreme. Steak or chicken tartare is meat eaten uncooked. Raw meat and poultry are most likely to cause food poisoning. They can have all sorts of bacteria from E. coli to salmonella, which can make you very sick. To stay safe, be sure meats are properly cooked.

Raw Eggs

Fresh eggs can carry salmonella, which can cause food poisoning.

Fresh eggs can carry salmonella, which can cause food poisoning. The best way to avoid getting sick is to make sure you cook eggs until the white and the yolk are firm. Refrigerate eggs or foods that have eggs right after you cook them. For recipes that call for raw eggs, like Caesar dressing or hollandaise sauce, use only pasteurized eggs.

Flour and Dough

It can be tempting to have a taste of batter when you make cookies, but anything with uncooked flour can make you sick.

It can be tempting to have a taste of batter when you make cookies, but anything with uncooked flour can make you sick. The flour can have bacteria like E. coli. Don't taste raw dough or batter, and don't add flour to foods that won't be cooked. Kids shouldn't play with flour or dough, either.

When you're done using flour, don't forget to wash your hands thoroughly.

Raw Potatoes

What do you do with a potato that's turned green?

What do you do with a potato that's turned green? The green part of a potato has solanine, a bitter substance that can make you sick. It can cause diarrhea, fever, headache, and vomiting. Cut off that green part along with the eyes and wash your potatoes before you prepare them. Once you start, cook them completely and never eat them raw.

Kidney Beans

Eating as few as four or five raw kidney beans can make you very sick.

Eating as few as four or five raw kidney beans can make you very sick. The beans -- especially red ones -- have a protein called bean lectin or PHA. It's usually destroyed during cooking. Soak your raw kidney beans for at least 5 hours, drain them, then boil them for at least 30 minutes.

Don't use a slow cooker. It won't get the beans hot enough to kill the toxin.

Canned beans are safe. They've already been cooked.

Lima Beans

The poison cyanide is naturally in some foods and plants, including lima beans.

The poison cyanide is naturally in some foods and plants, including lima beans. Ones sold in the U.S. have very little cyanide. (You'd have to eat about a pound of lima beans for each pound you weigh to get really sick.) Wild lima beans can have a lot of cyanide. To be safe, soak your lima beans overnight, then simmer them for at least 2 hours before you eat them.

Bitter Almond

Like lima beans, bitter almonds also have cyanide.

Like lima beans, bitter almonds also have cyanide. Eating just a handful of them can make you sick. Bitter almonds aren't supposed to be sold in the U.S. The almonds you get in stores are sweet almonds, which are safe to eat.

Wild Mushrooms

Some wild mushrooms have toxins like agaritine and amatoxin.

Some wild mushrooms have toxins like agaritine and amatoxin. These compounds can damage your liver and cause other serious health problems. Even raw mushrooms or spoiled mushrooms that don't have these toxins can cause things like vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain if they're not scrubbed before you eat them.

Taro

This should only be eaten cooked.

This should only be eaten cooked. Raw taro has compounds called oxalates that can cause swelling and irritation in your lips, mouth, and throat. Cooking taro -- especially with milk -- helps lower the effect of these toxins.

Castor Beans

If you chew and swallow castor beans, you can be exposed to a poison called ricin.

If you chew and swallow castor beans, you can be exposed to a poison called ricin. Just a tiny bit of it can be fatal. If just the seed is swallowed and not chewed, there's a chance your body won't take in the ricin.

Cassava

Like bitter almonds and lima beans, raw cassava has traces of cyanide.

Like bitter almonds and lima beans, raw cassava has traces of cyanide. If the roots are peeled and well-cooked, they are safe to eat. But if they are eaten raw or undercooked, they can lead to things like diarrhea, stomach pain, and vomiting.

Rhubarb Leaves

The fleshy, celery-like stalks of rhubarb are often used to make pies and are safe to eat.

The fleshy, celery-like stalks of rhubarb are often used to make pies and are safe to eat. But the plant's leaves have oxalic acid, a toxic compound. Eating them can cause burning in your mouth, trouble breathing, diarrhea, and stomach pain.

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REFERENCES:

  • HealthyChildren.org: "Is it safe for my child to eat sushi?"
  • EatRight.org: "Is Raw Seafood Safe To Eat?"
  • CDC: "Foods Linked to Food Poisoning," Anisakiasis FAQs," "Salmonella and Eggs." "Ricin toxin from Ricinus communis (castor beans)." "Oysters and Vibriosis."
  • FDA: "Eating Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know," "Egg Safety: What You Need to Know," "Raw Dough's a Raw Deal and Could Make You Sick."
  • USDA: "Fresh Pork from Farm to Table," "Flour, Raw Dough, and Raw Batter."
  • FoodSafety.gov: "Hepatitis A."
  • Southern Regional Aquaculture Center: "Nutritional Benefits of Seafood."
  • McGill Office for Science and Society: "What are the risks of eating steak tartare?"
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  • American Council on Science and Health: "Chicken Tartare: Eat At Your Own Peril."
  • Michigan State University: " Solanine poisoning - how does it happen?"
  • Liu, H. "Comprehensive Natural Products II," 2010.
  • Iowa State University: "Eating Raw Kidney Beans Can Be Toxic."
  • The Ohio State University: "Dry kidney beans need to be boiled."
  • Washington University in St. Louis: "Beware the smell of bitter almonds."
  • Utah State University: "Dry Beans."
  • Caballero, B. "Encyclopedia of Food Sciences and Nutrition," 2003.
  • Annals of Tropical Medicine and Public Health: "Cyanide poisoning after bitter almond ingestion."
  • Illinois Poison Center: "IPC Warns of Dangers from Fall Mushrooms, Unfriendly Fungi Can Cause Poisonings."
  • Journal of Functional Foods: "Mushrooms and agaritine: A mini-review."
  • Procedia Chemistry: "Kinetics of Calcium Oxalate Reduction in Taro (Colocasia esculenta) Corm Chips during Treatments Using Baking Soda Solution."
  • Subtropical Plant Science: "Effect of cooking on the mineral contents and anti-nutritional factors in seven accessions of Colocasia esculenta (L.) Schott growing in South Africa."
  • Food Chemistry: "Composition and availability of soluble and insoluble oxalates in raw and cooked taro (Colocasia esculenta var. Schott) leaves."
  • Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences: "Ricin Toxin from Castor Bean Plant, Ricinus communis."
  • Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety: "Cyanide Poisoning and Cassava."
  • Virginia Cooperative Extension: "Rhubarb."
  • Ohio State University Extension: "Growing Rhubarb in the Home Garden."
  • Oregon State University: "Are Rhubarb Leaves Toxic?"
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