The Top 19 Things Food-Safety Experts Won't Eat

Find out what foods top nutrition-safety experts around the country just won't touch. You may be surprised at what made the list.

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The Food Safety Diet

Food safety experts live and breathe the words they preach (I call it the "food safety diet"). They have seen cases and read studies on what happens after eating high-risk foods and know the gruesome details of what happens when you eat tainted food. I asked nine other food-safety experts (besides myself!) which food they just won't touch. You’ll be surprised at what made the list.

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Buffets

"While food regulations have become more stringent and there are a plethora of policies in place for safe food handling and preparation practices, there are too many opportunities for mishandling for my liking. There are many chances for cross-contamination, especially when customers serve themselves. This can occur if a serving utensil ends up floating in a serving dish and anyone who touched the utensil previously had unclean hands. Improper temperature holding and insufficient cooling methods can also lead to the growth of unwanted bacteria." — Emily Ellis, MSc, quality assurance and research & development at Pellman Foods, Inc.

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Sliced Lemons

"Many bars and restaurants serve a wedge of lemon or lime on the side of sodas, water or beer. I always ask for mine without it, or pull it off right away. I do not know who handled the lemon and if they washed their hands properly before slicing it." , M.S., R.D., nutrition expert and dietitian Toby Amidor author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen

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Raw Sprouts

"Despite the health benefits, I won't eat raw sprouts. I stay clear of any food with raw sprouts in it, because they have the propensity to cause foodborne illness just by their nature and also by how they are grown. Sprouts have been documented as being hosts for many foodborne-illness pathogens. The best conditions for sprouting also support the rapid growth of foodborne-illness pathogens if present in the seed. Recent foodborne-illness outbreaks associated with raw-sprouts consumption have included E. coli 0157, Salmonella and Listeria. I will consider eating sprouts, however, only if well cooked." — Daniel E. Archer, MPH, REHS, senior manager of food safety, workplace safety and environmental compliance for Stanford University Residence & Dining Enterprises (R&DE)

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Undercooked Ground Meat

"We do not eat raw or undercooked ground meat of any kind at our house. All raw meat has bacteria on the surface. Some are harmless and beneficial in breaking down the muscle fibers, as takes place in the aging process. However, raw meat can also have bacteria that could be harmful if the meat is not handled and cooked properly. Since these bacteria live on the surface of the meat, a steak can be enjoyed medium rare — about 145 degrees F internal temperature — but ground meat should be fully cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. This is because the grinding process could potentially introduce bacteria into the middle of the patty. This is true for all types of ground meat — including pork, poultry or beef — whether it is local, organic, grass-fed or ground by hand at your local butcher." — Dr. Mindy Brashears, director of the International Center for Food Industry Excellence and professor of food safety and public health at Texas Tech

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Raw Oysters

"Before I became a registered dietitian and learned about food safety, I loved eating raw oysters. Yum! But having learned about how risky they are I now only eat them thoroughly cooked. The culprit in raw oysters, Vibrio vulnificus bacteria, can be present even if they are harvested from non-polluted waters, and there is no way to detect it by sight or smell. Only heat can destroy the bacteria, so I only eat oysters that have been boiled or steamed until their shells are opened, or shucked oysters that have been fully cooked until they are opaque (milky white) and firm." — Mary Saucier Choate, M.S., RDN, L.D., manager of outreach and stakeholder engagement at the Partnership for Food Safety Education

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Food from Bulk Bins

"Since I need to avoid gluten, I don't eat from bulk bins at supermarkets. Anyone with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or a serious food allergy should do the same, due to the possibility of cross-contact because the food is not packaged and tongs are often shared between bins." Rachel Begun, M.S., RDN, culinary nutritionist and special-diets expert

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Sushi

"I see no reason to consume uncooked fish proteins. Well-seasoned and gently cooked, sauteed and steamed fish is nutritionally rich and food-safe! The goal for safe food consumption is to reduce and, when possible, eliminate any risk for foodborne illness. So when folks brag to me about eating sushi, I compare it to someone boasting about going through a red light. Sometimes nothing happens, but [other times] illness follows." — John A. Krakowski, M.A., RDN, CDN, FAND, food safety coach and trainer in Flanders, N.Y.

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Raw Milk

"Raw milk has been associated with numerous outbreaks over the past decade or two. Additionally, the threat from raw milk isn't even from one bacterium, but rather from many. It may be contaminated with Listeria, Salmonella, E. coli or Campylobacter. Pasteurization of milk began back in the late 1800s because of the association of raw milk with foodborne illness. It just isn't worth the risk!" — Jennifer J. Quinlan, PhD, food microbiologist and associate professor at Drexel University

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Packaged Lunch Meats

"From a food safety perspective, many consumers don't realize that once opened, the product needs to be consumed within three to five days and not the expiration/use-by date. There is potential for the growth of Listeria monocytogenes, which can cause listeriosis, and may lead to illness and in some cases be fatal. The groups at risk include pregnant women, older adults (age 65 and over) and those with weakened immune systems. The solution? Buy fresh meats from the deli, refrigerate at no higher than 40 degrees F and use within three to five days. For those populations at risk, heating the meat to steaming or 165 degrees Fahrenheit will reduce the risk potential." — Susan M. Piergeorge, M.S., RDN, food and nutrition consultant and author of Boomer Be Well! Rebel Against Aging Through Food, Nutrition and Lifestyle

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Potlucks

"While many people view potluck meals as a fun opportunity to enjoy a variety of foods prepared by others, I view them as a risky dining experience filled with hundreds of food safety mysteries. Was the food properly cooked, cooled, transported and reheated? What about the health or hygiene of the person making it? Did little Johnny with norovirus help Grandma make the cookies? Thanks for the invitation but I'll pass." — Ellen Steinberg, PhD, R.D., L.D., food safety specialist and president of the Georgia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

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Food Samples

"While sampling programs at major retailers are required to follow proper food safety and sanitation regulations, there are many unsanitary opportunities that present themselves — thanks to the customers. Often, the customer is the one that doesn’t abide by the rules and contaminates the product by reaching into a covered bin with their hands, disregarding a covering or a hood over a tray of food, not using proper utensils to take food, etc. Having worked in the land of retail supermarkets, I have seen this behavior time and time again." — Robin Plotkin, RDN, Culinary Nutritionist and Founder of Board Mama, a charcuterie board and grazing table company

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Preserved Foods

"I won’t eat home-preserved foods given to me as gifts. Many people don’t use recipes that have been tested for safety (in terms of acid levels, processing time, pressure if applicable). Botulism from home-canned goods can be deadly, so I won’t take any chances." — Leia Flure, MS, RD, LDN of Moderation Maven

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Tartare

"Tartare is raw, ground up meat or fish. Unless your meat or fish is cooked to the proper minimum internal cooking temperature, bacteria have the ability to thrive and potentially make you very sick. That is why I avoid eating any sort of tartare." — Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND Wall Street Journal bestselling cookbook author and Healthy Eats contributor

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Crab Salad

"Though I fully support eating seafood at least twice a week, I can't jump on a board with crab salad because of how susceptible it is to foodborne pathogens. Oftentimes cooked crab used in a store-bought crab salad is only partially cooked, meaning it hasn't been heated to the temperature needed to kill off any potential bacteria or pathogens present. Plus, traditionally speaking, crab salad is made with mayonnaise, an egg-based ingredient that needs to be kept cool when serving at say a luncheon buffet. Too often I've seen these sorts of dishes enter the temperature danger zone and putting you (and me) as the consumers at risk of getting a food borne illness." Elizabeth Shaw MS, RDN, CPT, nutrition expert at ShawSimpleSwaps.com

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Damaged Canned Goods

"As a food safety expert, I would not eat food from a can that is deeply dented, rusted and/or bulging. Part of the canning process involves processing food at high temperature to destroy harmful bacteria and inactivate enzymes before vacuum sealing it to keep air out. If the seam is broken, air gets in, potentially contaminating the food inside the can. It is not always easy to tell when this seam is broken but a a dent so deep you can lay a finger in, rust that will not easily rub off, or a bulge in a can are telltale signs that air and possibly harmful bacteria have been introduced into the food." — Cordialis Msora-Kasago, MA, RDN Media Spokesperson Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

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Mixed Nuts

"I would never eat from the dish of mixed nuts that sit out at a bar. It is hard to know how many dirty hands have touched them and how long they have been out. If you really love nuts, ask your bartender to pour a fresh bowl just for yourself." — Laurel Ann Deininger, MS, RD, CDE of Laurel Ann Nutrition

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Raw Cookie Dough

"Raw cookie dough is something I will never eat. Raw cookie dough (generally) contains two raw ingredients that can be the source of germs that might cause food poisoning: eggs and flour. Yes, flour is a raw ingredient. It is made from wheat that is minimally processed and then packaged for home use. Flour and eggs should be cooked to a safe temperature before eating. So, BAKE your cookie dough. Eat it in the form of the final product — your delicious cookie." — Shelley Feist, Executive Director of Partnership for Food Safety Education

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Raw and Undercooked Eggs

"I won’t eat raw and undercooked eggs, including homemade Caesar salad dressing, raw batter and egg nog. Eggs contain bacteria called salmonella that can cause food poisoning if raw or undercooked eggs are consumed. It is best to cook eggs thoroughly until the yolks and whites are firm. And as tempting as it is to try that raw chocolate chip cookie dough, it is not worth the risk." — Emily Rubin RD, LDN Thomas Jefferson division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology

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