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Foods Most Associated with Food Poisoning

Just about any kind of food product can cause a foodborne illness, but certain foods are more associated with food poisoning than others. For instance, raw meat is much more vulnerable to the types of organisms that cause illness than packaged cereals. From a legal standpoint, consumers who get sick from foods that are not properly prepared may have difficulty winning a lawsuit.

According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), one in six Americans suffers from food poisoning every year. The best way to avoid food poisoning is to know the risks and be generally cautious with food safety.

The following article focuses on the types of foods most associated with foodborne illness, as well as other factors that may cause food poisoning. See FindLaw's dangerous foods section for additional articles and resources, including types of food poisoning.

Meat

The flesh of beef, bison, venison, lamb, pork, and other mammals is referred to as meat (see "poultry," below, for information about chicken and turkey). Raw meat may contain a number of different organisms capable of causing illness. These include E. colisalmonellalisteria, and certain parasites. Cooking meat to the proper temperature is the only way to kill illness-causing organisms. For instance, ham and pork should be cooked to at least 145 degrees (F), while ground beef needs to be cooked to 160 degrees. As with all foods, be careful to avoid cross-contamination with other foods. Always avoid placing any food on contaminated surfaces or mixing it with uncooked foods.

Poultry

The flesh of chicken, turkey, duck, and other fowl is referred to as poultry. Raw poultry may contain salmonella, listeria, and campylobacter. While steaks and some other red meats often can be eaten rare, poultry is especially susceptible to salmonella contamination and must always be cooked thoroughly (salmonellosis is among the most common foodborne illnesses in the U.S.). All poultry must be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees (F).

Eggs

All fresh eggs must be handled with care, even those with clean and intact shells, as they may contain salmonella. Store-bought eggs must be stored in the refrigerator and be cooked until both the whites and yolks are firm. This means fried eggs with runny yolks ("sunny side up") may present more of a health risk. Eggs gathered from a backyard chicken coop, on the other hand, need not be refrigerated. Casseroles, quiches, and other egg mixtures should be cooked until the center of the dish is at least 160 degrees (F).

Fish and Shellfish

As with raw meat, raw seafood can sometimes contain bacteria that must be cooked in order to be destroyed. Fish that is labeled "sushi grade" is handled in a way that results in a much lower bacteria level and is therefore considered safe to eat raw. Raw fish served in sushi restaurants typically undergoes rigorous testing. Otherwise, fish with fins must be cooked to 145 degrees (F). Shrimp, lobster, and crabs should be cooked until the flesh is opaque. Clams, oysters, and mussels should be cooked until the shells open. Finally, scallops must be cooked until the flesh is opaque and firm.

Additionally, some fish (particularly tuna) may contain dangerous levels of mercury. Mercury is harmful to developing babies and should be avoided by pregnant women.

Milk and Dairy Products

Dairy products are prone to contamination if left at room temperature for too long. While there is some controversy over the safety of raw milk, which advocates claim is more nutritional than pasteurized milk, the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) official stance is that all milk should be pasteurized in order to kill dangerous organisms. This is the process of heating milk to the point where illness-causing organisms are destroyed. Raw milk has been linked to E. coli, salmonella, and listeria. Soft cheeses made from raw milk should be avoided by pregnant women.

Proper and Safe Food Handling

To prevent foodborne illness, it is important to begin with food safety education. Knowing how to properly handle food safely can help prevent food poisoning.

Contaminated food can contaminate other food. Foods that mingle the products of many individual animals are particularly hazardous because a pathogen present in one animal may contaminate the whole batch. For instance, a single hamburger may contain meat from hundreds of animals. A single restaurant omelet may contain eggs from hundreds of chickens.

While washing raw fruits and vegetables decreases contamination, it does not eliminate it. Many food poisoning outbreaks have shown that the quality of the water used for washing and chilling produce after it is harvested is critical. Unclean water for washing, fresh manure for fertilization, and the consumption of some uncooked vegetables and unpasteurized fruit juices all pose higher risks for contamination.

Always use hot, soapy water to wash cookware, utensils, and countertops that may have been contaminated. This helps to rid germs and prevent cross-contamination. You should also use soapy, hot water to wash your hands whenever handling foods that may contain such bacteria.

Toxins, such as pesticides inadvertently added to food or naturally poisonous substances used to prepare meals, can also cause foodborne illness. For example, every year people become ill after eating poisonous reef fish or after mistaking poisonous mushrooms for one of the safe varieties.

Finally, always make sure to keep your food stored at the appropriate temperature. Bacteria, such as salmonella, can multiply quickly on food left in room temperature conditions.

What To Do if You Suspect Food Poisoning

If you wondering whether you are suffering from food poisoning, visit The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for a list of symptoms of food poisoning, suggestions on when you should consider seeing your doctor, and other vital information.

Staying up-to-date on health information news may help to reduce the risk of food poisoning. For updates on current outbreaks, food recalls, and tips on food safety, visit foodsafety.gov.

Taking Legal Action Against Food Poisoning

Food poisoning lawsuits fall under the category of product liability claims. Most states have a strict liability standard with food-borne illnesses. This means that the plaintiff (the person bringing the lawsuit) does not need to prove that the grocery store or restaurant was negligent in the storing or preparation of the food that caused the food poisoning.

If you are considering legal action after suffering food poisoning, you should consult a personal injury attorney to determine your state's laws, legal challenges, and the likelihood of success in recovering for any injuries resulting from food poisoning.

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