Foods That Can Cause Food Poisoning
Some foods are more likely than others to contain germs that can make you sick.
These foods include:
- Raw and undercooked foods from animals, including meat, chicken and other poultry, eggs, raw (unpasteurized) milk and products made from it, and seafood.
- Raw vegetables, grains, and fruits or products made from them, including leafy greens, sprouts, and flour.
Although these foods are more likely than others to contain harmful germs, any food can get contaminated along the food production chain, including through cross-contamination in the kitchen. Following four simple steps at home—clean, separate, cook, and chill—can help protect you and your loved ones.
Foods That Are More Likely to Cause Food Poisoning
Meat and Poultry
Eating raw and undercooked meat and poultry can make you sick.
- Raw poultry is ready to cook. It doesn’t need to be washed first. According to a USDA study, 1 in 7 people who cleaned their sink after washing chicken still had germs in the sink.
- If you choose to wash poultry, do so as safely as possible:
- Run the water gently over the poultry to reduce splashing.
- Then immediately clean the sink and area around the sink with hot soapy water and sanitize them thoroughly.
- Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm or cold water.
- If you choose to wash poultry, do so as safely as possible:
- Always cook meat and poultry to a safe internal temperature to kill harmful germs.
- Use a food thermometer to check the temperature. You can’t tell if meat or poultry is fully cooked by looking at its color or juices.
- Use one cutting board or plate for raw meat and poultry, and a separate cutting board or plate for produce, bread, and other foods that won’t be cooked.
- Wash your utensils, cutting boards, and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each meat and poultry item.
- Refrigerate leftovers at 40°F or colder within 2 hours after preparation (or within 1 hour if the food is exposed to a temperature over 90°F, like at a picnic or in a hot car).
- Large cuts of meat, such as roasts or a whole turkey, should be divided into small quantities for refrigeration to help them cool faster.
Tips for Preparing Meat and Poultry
Eggs can contain Salmonella, even if the egg looks clean and is uncracked.
- Do not eat foods that contain raw or undercooked eggs, such as homemade Caesar salad dressing and eggnog.
- Use pasteurized eggs and egg products when preparing foods that include raw or undercooked eggs.
- Cook eggs until the yolks and whites are firm.
- Cook egg dishes, such as quiches and frittatas, to a safe internal temperature: 165°F if they contain meat or poultry and 160°F if they do not contain meat or poultry.
- Keep eggs refrigerated at 40°F or colder.
- Do not taste or eat raw batter or dough.
- Wash your utensils, cutting boards, and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing items that contain eggs.
Tips for Preparing Eggs
Fruits and Vegetables
Sometimes raw fruits and vegetables can be contaminated with harmful germs, such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria. The safest fruits, vegetables, and fresh herbs are cooked; the next safest are washed.
- To help prevent food poisoning, do not eat unwashed fresh produce.
- Wash or scrub fruits and vegetables under running water—even if you do not plan to eat the peel. Germs on the peel or skin can get inside fruits and vegetables when you cut them.
- Cut away any damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating. Germs can more easily get into fruits and vegetables if the peel or skin is damaged or bruised.
- Dry fruit or vegetables with a clean paper towel.
- Refrigerate fruits and vegetables within 2 hours after you cut, peel, or cook them (or within 1 hour if they are exposed to temperatures above 90°F, like in a hot car or at a picnic). Chill them at 40°F or colder in a clean container.
Tips for Preparing Fruits and Vegetables
Raw Milk, Raw Milk Soft Cheeses, and Other Raw Milk Products
You can get very sick from raw (unpasteurized) milk and products made with raw milk, including soft cheeses (such as queso fresco, blue-veined, feta, brie, and camembert), ice cream, and yogurt. That’s because raw milk can carry harmful germs, such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, E. coli, Listeria, and Brucella.
- Milk is made safe for drinking through a process called pasteurization, which heats raw milk to a high enough temperature for a long enough time to kill harmful germs.
- If you drink pasteurized milk, you get most of the nutritional benefits of drinking raw milk, but without the risk.
- Although Listeria infection is very uncommon, it can sicken pregnant women and their newborns, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.
- Listeria infection can cause miscarriages, stillbirths, preterm labor, and serious illness and even death in newborns.
- Drink pasteurized milk instead of raw milk, and eat foods made with pasteurized milk instead of raw milk.
Learn About the Dangers of Raw Milk and Soft Cheeses
- To avoid food poisoning, do not eat raw or undercooked fish or shellfish, or food containing raw or undercooked seafood, such as sashimi, some sushi, and ceviche.
- Cook fish with fins to 145°F or until the flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork.
- Cook shrimp, lobster, crab, and scallops until the flesh is opaque and pearly or white.
- Boil clams, mussels, and oysters until the shells open, and keep boiling for another 3–5 minutes.
- Heat leftover seafood to 165°F.
- Keep raw seafood away from ready-to-eat food in the grocery cart, refrigerator, and on cutting boards.
- Wash your utensils, cutting boards, and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each seafood item.
- Refrigerate leftovers at 40°F or colder within 2 hours after preparation (or within 1 hour if the food is exposed to a temperature over 90˚F, like at a picnic or in a hot car).
Tips for Preparing Fish and Shellfish
Lettuce and Other Leafy Greens
Leafy greens are sometimes contaminated with harmful germs like Salmonella, E. coli, Cyclospora, Listeria, and norovirus. If you eat contaminated leafy greens without cooking them first, such as in a salad or on a sandwich, you might get sick. To reduce your chance of getting sick:
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water before and after preparing leafy greens.
- Get rid of any torn or bruised leaves. Also, get rid of the outer leaves of cabbages and lettuce heads because they are likely to have more dirt and germs on them.
- Rinse the remaining leaves under running water. Use your hands to gently rub them to help get rid of germs and dirt.
- Dry leafy greens with a clean cloth or paper towel.
- Refrigerate cooked or cut produce, including salads, within 2 hours (1 hour if the food is exposed to temperatures above 90°F, like in a hot car or at a picnic).
Tips for Preparing Leafy Greens
The warm, humid conditions needed to grow sprouts are also ideal for germs, such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, to grow. Eating raw or lightly cooked sprouts—including alfalfa sprouts, bean sprouts, and clover sprouts—can make you sick.
- Cook sprouts until steaming hot to kill harmful germs and reduce the chance of food poisoning.
More Information About Sprouts
Most flour bought at the store is raw, meaning it has not been treated to kill germs. Harmful germs, including E. coli and Salmonella, can contaminate grain while it’s still in the field or flour while it’s being made. Cooking food made with flour kills the germs.
- Bake raw dough and batter before eating.
- Never taste raw dough or batter.
- Wash your hands, bowls, utensils, and countertops after handling raw flour.
Tips for Preparing Foods With Flour