These days, eating healthy foods is a top priority for most families. "But there are some hidden dangers in some of the healthiest foods," warns Debra Holtzman, JD, MA, a nationally recognized safety and health expert. According to the CDC, about 76 million Americans will suffer from food-borne illness and at least 5,000 will die this year. Children, the elderly and the immunocompromised are at the greatest risk.
Follow Debra Holtzman’s simple tips for safer eating:
1. Lettuce: Because it is grown so close to the ground, it can come into contact with manure or irrigation runoff. Holtzman recommends that when you buy lettuce that you first discard the outer leaves. Then separate the inner leaves and thoroughly wash. Holtzman warns that all raw fruits and vegetables can harbor disease-causing bacteria, She recommends before eating any raw produce, that it be thoroughly washed under running cold water. If appropriate, use a small scrub brush. This is true even for organic fruits and vegetables.
2. Water: Contaminated water can be a major source of trouble, especially for those drinking from private wells or streams. The EPA recommends that private water supplies be tested at least once a year for: nitrates, total dissolved solids and coliform bacteria, the presence of which may indicate other contamination. You may need to test more frequently and for more potential contaminants if a problem is suspected. People who are on a public water utility receive a consumer confidence report once a year that analyzes the water.
3. Raw sprouts: Alfalfa sprouts, clover sprouts and radish sprouts have all been associated with salmonella and E. coli. Cook sprouts thoroughly to kill off the bacteria.
4. Unpasteurized juices, milks or cheeses: Make sure you always purchase the pasteurized versions of your favorite products. Pasteurization kills bacteria. When you go to a juice bar, make sure the juices being served are pasteurized. Unpasteurized products have been linked to salmonella, E. coli and listeria — all can lead to death.
5. Moldy Peanuts: Aflatoxins are by-products of common, naturally occurring mold growth on certain agricultural products such as peanuts, wheat, cereals and corn. Alfatoxins have been found to cause liver cancer in animal species. Check carefully for any sign of discoloration or mold.
6. Raw or undercooked shellfish: Shellfish, such as clams, and oysters must be cooked thoroughly. Any animal protein consumed raw or undercooked has an increased potential for causing illness.
7. Swordfish, Shark, King Mackerel and Tilefish: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises children, women who are planning to become pregnant and pregnant or nursing women not to eat these fish. Swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish have much higher levels of methyl mercury than other commonly consumed fish. Mercury is most harmful to the developing brains of unborn children and young children, affecting cognitive, motor and sensory functions.
8. Caesar salad: Many restaurants or home made recipes call for raw eggs in Caesar salad. Always ask if the salad is served with raw eggs in the dressing.
9. Honey: Never give honey to a baby under the age of one. Honey may contain bacterial spores that can cause infant botulism, a rare but serious disease that affects the nervous system of young babies.
10. Wild mushrooms: Some common species of mushrooms are capable of causing poisoning or even death. Only an expert with specialized training can distinguish the edible kinds from the others. Only eat mushrooms you’ve purchased in the grocery store or the ones you’ve raised at home from cultures bought from reputable sources.