Food Risks: 7 Problematic Foods, Frequently Recalled

InfoCons-Consumer-Protection-7-Problematic-Foods_-Frequently-Recalled.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States estimates that approximately 48 million people are infected with Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli, or other foodborne bacteria each year. Most of them recover within a few days. However, nearly 130,000 people are hospitalized, and 3,000 die annually due to foodborne illnesses. Children under the age of 5, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems are at the highest risk.

Here are some foods that have been frequently recalled from the market between 2017 and 2022 due to health risks. However, it doesn’t mean that they should not be consumed, but rather that certain precautions should be taken before consuming them.

  1. Salads, especially pre-packaged ones.
  2. Cheeses and deli meats.
  3. Ground beef.
  4. Chicken and turkey meat.
  5. Papayas, peaches, and cantaloupe.

 

1.Salads, especially pre-packaged ones.

Between 2017 and 2022, salads were recalled 50 times due to contamination with E. coli or Listeria. A total of 4,390,638 containers were recalled. Consuming a salad contaminated with bacteria resulted in 614 illnesses and 11 deaths.

How can greens become contaminated with bacteria?

  • Contaminated water used for irrigation.
  • Bacteria from animal waste.

These bacteria are quickly destroyed during the cooking process, but salads are often consumed raw.

How can we protect ourselves:

  • Opt for whole salads instead of pre-packaged or pre-cut ones.
  • Remove the outer leaves, where bacteria are more likely to be present.
  • Choose greens that can be cooked, such as kale, Brussels sprouts, or spinach.

 

  1. Cheeses and deli meats.

Sausages, salami, ham, sliced cheeses, and soft cheeses are some of the products found to be contaminated with dangerous bacteria. 7,677 tons of such products have been recalled in the past 5 years. 409 people fell ill, and 7 lost their lives.

Cause: contamination with Listeria. 9 out of 10 people infected with Listeria require hospitalization to recover.

Listeria can grow even at low temperatures, in market displays and refrigerated storage rooms. Additionally, deli meats and cheeses in stores are touched by someone’s hands every time they are sliced. If a single package of meat contains bacteria, the entire display could be compromised.

How can we protect ourselves:

  • Choose pre-packaged foods. Studies show that they may be less likely to cause illness in the event of a Listeria infection.
  • Avoid deli meats altogether or significantly limit their consumption. Besides the high risk of foodborne illnesses they pose, they are often nutritional nightmares loaded with salt.

 

  1. Ground beef

Between 2017 and 2022, there were 22 food alerts regarding contamination of ground beef with E. coli or Salmonella. 6,234 tons of ground beef were recalled due to food safety risks. 643 people fell ill, and 2 lost their lives.

In the case of whole cuts of meat, bacteria are usually only on the surface, where they can be easily destroyed during cooking. However, with ground beef, bacteria can be mixed throughout the entire composition, which means it must be cooked thoroughly.

How can we protect ourselves:

  • Buy whole pieces of meat and grind them at home.
  • If purchasing ground beef from stores, do not place it on the same cutting board where vegetables will be cut, as microbes can transfer.
  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap before and after handling the meat.
  • Clean up any meat drippings with a disposable paper towel, not a sponge that will be used for washing dishes later.
  • Thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator and only take it out when ready to cook. Cooked foods should not be left out for more than 2 hours.
  • Ensure that the meat is cooked to a temperature that will kill bacteria. For ground beef and pork, the temperature should reach 70°C (160°F).

 

  1. Onions

35,387 tons of red and white onions were recalled from stores between 2017 and 2022 due to contamination with Salmonella. They caused illness in 2,167 individuals.

An FDA investigation identified contaminated irrigation water as the most likely cause of contamination.

What can we do:

  • When choosing onions, avoid those that are soft, as bacteria can more easily penetrate damaged food.
  • Store onions in a well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight.
  • Never wash onions in advance; moisture can lead to faster spoilage. Wash onions just before using them.

 

  1. Chicken and turkey meat

In the past 5 years, 398 people fell ill from Salmonella-contaminated turkey meat. A total of 176,742 kilograms of turkey meat were recalled. For chicken meat, a food safety risk was identified for 88,478 kilograms. 190 people fell ill, and two lost their lives.

Salmonella is particularly prevalent in chicken and turkey meat, and the crowded and dirty conditions in which they are often raised contribute to the problem.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that Salmonella causes more foodborne illnesses than any other bacteria. Approximately 1 in every 25 packages of chicken from the grocery store is contaminated with Salmonella. Additionally, you can become ill if the chicken is not cooked thoroughly.

What can we do:

  • Cook chicken meat to a temperature of at least 75 degrees Celsius (165 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • It is not recommended to rinse chicken meat before cooking. Doing so can spread bacteria around the sink and countertop.
  • Wash your hands with soap and clean, cold water for at least 20 seconds, especially after handling raw eggs or meat.
  • Clean kitchen utensils, cutting boards, plates, and work surfaces with hot, soapy water.
  • Keep raw meat separate from other foods in your shopping cart and refrigerator.

 

  1. Papaya, peaches, or cantaloupe

From 2017 to 2022, there were 12 food alerts concerning 272,597 kilograms of contaminated papaya. 330 people who consumed them fell ill. As for peaches, a total of 51,284 tons were recalled. Although the quantity is much larger than that of papaya, there were fewer illnesses, approximately 100. 280,000 cantaloupes were recalled due to contamination with Salmonella.

It is a common risk for all these fruits: they are commonly consumed raw, so bacteria will not be eliminated through cooking.

How can we protect ourselves:

  • Avoid pre-cut fruits, especially if you have a weak immune system.
  • Buy whole fruits and cut them at home just before consumption.
  • When choosing whole fruits, avoid selecting those that are bruised or damaged, as they may have a higher risk of bacterial contamination.
  • Although washing fruits helps to remove dirt and some pesticides, it is still worth doing. This can reduce the risk of surface contamination, even though it does not eliminate all bacteria.

 

7.Flour

In the past 5 years, there have been 22 alerts recalling packages of flour due to contamination with E. coli or Salmonella. Among the products recalled are plain flour, cake mixes, bread, and dough.

Wheat can become contaminated with E. coli or Salmonella from neighboring farms where animals are raised and from wild animal feces, especially deer and birds.

How can we protect ourselves:

  • Do not consume raw dough, not even a small taste.
  • Keep flour and flour-containing mixes away from all ready-to-eat foods. Flour is lightweight and can easily spread in the kitchen, contaminating countertops, knives, plates, and more.

Food alerts serve as a vital reminder of the foods commonly associated with safety concerns. By exercising caution and attentiveness during our shopping endeavors, we can actively safeguard our well-being and that of our loved ones. Familiarity with the symptoms induced by these bacteria is essential to detect potential illnesses early on. Some key symptoms include:

  • Salmonella: Diarrhea, fever, bloody stools, nausea, dehydration, and dizziness.
  • Listeria: Fever, headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and seizures.
  • coli: Diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fever.

Staying informed about food alerts is equally crucial. Supermarkets generally take the initiative to notify customers about specific products that have been recalled due to safety concerns. This proactive approach ensures that consumers are aware of potential risks associated with certain food items. Moreover, the InfoCons app provides a convenient way to stay updated on food alerts, empowering individuals to make informed decisions about their purchases.

By adopting a mindful and informed approach, we can actively protect ourselves and our loved ones from potential foodborne illnesses. Through responsible choices and staying informed, we prioritize our health and well-being in the realm of food consumption.

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