Food safety has been a big issue lately in America, especially with the news coverage of the E. coli outbreak caused by romaine lettuce that happened earlier this year.
That particular outbreak affected 36 states and led to five deaths and 96 hospitalizations, all stemming from the Yuma, Ariz. growing region, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
After events like this one, people begin to think more about what food they can and can’t eat, and how to tell if their food is contaminated.
While it is not always clear if food is contaminated, there are some types of food to pay special attention to because they can be more harmful.
Dr. Xiangyu Deng, an associate professor at the University of Georgia Center for Food Safety in Griffin, said there are certain foods to avoid eating at restaurants.
Deng said it is best to avoid undercooked meats, such as medium-rare burgers, and sprouts when eating out.
Sprouts need warm and humid conditions to grow, unlike other fresh produce, which is an ideal condition for bacteria to grow in, according to foodsafety.gov.
There are also many other foods that can carry foodborne illnesses, the first being undercooked and raw poultry and meat.
Chicken, beef, pork and turkey can contain many different types of bacteria, but cooking them to their respective safe temperatures kills the bacteria, according to the CDC.
The CDC also reports that before cooking raw meat or poultry, it is also important that you shouldn’t wash it. Washing raw meat will not kill the bacteria, and it can contaminate other surfaces.
Fresh fruits and vegetables can also be contaminated with germs such as salmonella, E. coli and listeria. The CDC said the safest way to eat fruits and vegetables is to cook them. If you eat them raw, make sure to wash them thoroughly.
It is also possible to contract illnesses from raw milk, and products made with raw milk, such as soft cheeses. However, pasteurization provides enough heat to kill the harmful bacteria, so products made with pasteurized milk are safe to eat, according to the CDC.
Raw eggs can contain salmonella, the CDC reports, so it is best to avoid foods that contain raw or undercooked eggs unless they are pasteurized.
Seafood and raw shellfish can also contain harmful bacteria, and the CDC reports that seafood should be cooked to 145 degrees fahrenheit. To avoid food poisoning from oysters, which are filter-feeding shellfish, they should be cooked well.
A food that doesn’t seem like it could make you sick is raw flour. The CDC said that it is a product that is not treated to kill germs at all during the harvesting and packaging process.
Therefore, the CDC warns against eating raw cookie dough and batter for this reason.
When watching out for foods such as these, it is important to note that certain groups such as pregnant women, adults 65 and older, children under five and people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to the illness and their illness can be more severe, according to the CDC.
Employee food handling practices are a key to getting safe food to eat, said Dr. Elizabeth L. Andress, professor of foods and nutrition in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Georgia.
She said outbreaks of illness are “often in the virus area” and usually relate to employees not washing their hands sufficiently or making sure to avoid cross contamination of foods.
“That’s usually a human process,” she said.
To keep up with news about food safety, you can subscribe to a food safety newsletter on the CDC website.
If you are worried about general food safety at restaurants, pay attention to general hygiene practices at the restaurant, said Deng. You can also check the health score which should be posted at restaurants.
There is also an app for your phone called What The Health that posts restaurant health inspection scores, where you can check on restaurants before you visit them.