Consumer Reports compiles a list of 10 ‘risky foods’ to watch out for

FOOD SAFETY NEWS – Consumer Reports is out with a new analysis of what it describes as risky foods consumers should know about.

The list was compiled after the organization looked at data from 2017 through 2022. The researchers focused on widely consumed foods that had recalls during the study period.

They did not include recalled food related to allergens or extraneous materials. The report ranked recalls based on how many people died or became ill, as well as how widespread the outbreaks were and how many times a food was recalled.

The 10 foods that made the list are:

  1. Leafy greens
  2. Deli cheese and meat
  3. Ground beef
  4. Onions
  5. Turkey
  6. Chicken
  7. Papayas
  8. Peaches
  9. Cantaloupe
  10. Flour

“We aren’t saying people need to avoid these foods entirely, said Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumer Reports, who lead the analysis.

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“After all, these foods are usually safe and many of them are in fact import parts of a healthy diet.” Instead, he says, the list underscores the “importance of following best food safety practices with all of your foods, including knowing how to track and respond to food recalls when they happen.”

To help reduce risk to consumers, government should engage in more oversight from federal regulators, according to the report. Inspecting and monitoring farms and feedlots and being given more authority to address critical risk factors as well as an enhanced ability to track tainted food would go a long way in making America’s food supply safer, Consumer Reports leaders say.

They use a letter sent by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf in February as an example of the scope of the problem. The letter stated that there are more than 81,000 registered food facilities in the country and all fall under FDA’s jurisdiction. The number of inspections dropped 60 percent from 2011 to 2021 with 10,635 inspections compared to 4,535, respectively.

On the up side, the FDA has made progress on the Food Traceability Rule that requires food producers, processors, packers, distributors, grocery stores and some restaurants to devise traceability plans so they can track where food comes from and where it goes. The rule becomes effective Jan. 20, 2026.

Good news from industry includes the issuance of new guidelines from the Leafy Greens Marketing Associations in California and Arizona. The guidelines include how close growers can plant crops to places where cattle are raised to preharvest testing requirements.

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On the retail front, three major chains — Costco, Wegmans and Whole Foods — have launched programs that require that certain leafy greens products to be tested for pathogens before they can be shipped to their stores.

Leafy greens — Products that have been recalled include romaine lettuce and bagged salads because of contamination with E. Coli and Listeria. It is difficult to avoid pathogens on these products because they are usually eaten raw, without a kill step.

Consumer Reports found that leafy greens were behind the most deaths and the second largest number of recalls and outbreaks with 50. By comparison, there were 30 for chicken, turkey and ground beef combined. There were 11 deaths and 614 illnesses attributed to leafy greens. More than 4.9 million pounds of products were recalled.

To lessen their chances of becoming ill from leafy greens, Consumer Reports says consumers should consider buying whole head lettuce and removing outer leaves where pathogens are often found. Rinsing fresh produce to remove dirt and debris is a good idea but doesn’t remove pathogens such as bacteria.

Cheeses and deli meat — Products that have been recalled include sausage, salami, ham, lunch meats, sliced cheeses and soft cheeses including brie and queso fresco. The main reason for the recalls has been contamination with Listeria, according to Consumer Reports. Listeria can survive freezing temperatures, making deli coolers no match for it.

The equipment used for slicing deli meats and cheeses is difficult to clean and can cross contaminate large amounts of food with very small amounts of bacteria. Listeria is a particularly dangerous pathogen with nine out of 10 people infected from it requiring hospitalization. The best advice is to avoid deli meats and cheeses and buy prepackaged versions instead, according to Consumer Reports. Deli cheeses and meats caused seven deaths and 409 illnesses. There were more than16.9 million pounds recalled.

Ground beef — This popular form of protein caused two outbreaks and 643 illnesses. More than 13.7 million pounds were recalled. Salmonella and E. Coli were the pathogens behind the problems. Part of the problem is that one piece of contaminated beef can contaminate large quantities of meat when it is ground together. There is less of a risk from whole cuts of meat, such as steak, because bacteria on the outer area are easily killed when cooked properly, unless the meat has been tenderized, which drags surface contaminants into it. To minimize contamination at home is making sure ground beef is cook to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. Do not measure temperature by looking or touching the meat; use a meat thermometer.

Onions — “Here’s the first big surprise in our list,” according to the Consumer Reports document. “How did they end up here? Mostly because of two very large recalls of red, white and yellow onions due to Salmonella in 2020 and 2021.” Together the two recalls were linked to 2,167 patients, hospitalizing 427. There were more than 78 million pounds of onions recalled. The FDA found that contaminated irrigation water was the most likely cause of the problem. To help minimize risks from onions, consumers should always cook them well and avoid buying ones that are bruised or have gouges or other damage.

Chicken and Turkey — Salmonella caused the recall of chicken and poultry, including ground whole and parts. There was one death related to turkey and two for chicken. Turkey caused 398 illnesses while chicken caused 190. There were more than 389,000 pounds of turkey recalled. There were more than 195,000 pounds of chicken recalled. Ground poultry has the same dangers as ground beef. But unlike whole cuts of beef, whole birds and parts are likely to be contaminated with Salmonella because it is particularly widespread. Complicating the situation is the defeathering process, which can spread the bacteria.

Poultry is also handled more than beef and that can cause more cross contamination. Also, chickens and turkeys are also usually raised in crowded, filthy conditions. Finally, producers can legally sell poultry that is contaminated with Salmonella even if they know it is contaminated. To help minimize risk from chicken and turkey, consumers can keep it separate from other foods while shopping and at home. It should also be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Also, poultry should not be washed or rinsed because that can spread microscopic water droplets around the kitchen and cross contaminate virtually anything.

Papayas, Peaches and Melons — Recalled products included whole cantaloupes, papayas and peaches, but precut cantaloupe, honeydew melons and watermelon were also problems. Papayas were responsible for 2 deaths and 332 illnesses. More than 600,000 pounds were recalled. Peaches were responsible for 101 sicknesses but no deaths were confirmed. More than 113 million pounds were recalled. Cantaloupe was behind 302 illnesses but no deaths were reported. More than 279,000 “retail units” were recalled with varying weights.

Salmonella was the pathogen behind all of the outbreaks and recalls for these fruits. Consumer Reports says a likely route of contamination for peaches is animal feedlots and the dust they produce. Cantaloupes and other melons are often contaminated during the cutting process. As with ground meat and bagged salad, the commingling of contaminated fruit with clean fruit is a problem. Tools to cut melons are also a vector for cross contamination. For papayas the risk seems to be most severe with fruit imported from Mexico, underscoring the difficulty the Food and Drug Administration can have inspecting production areas outside of the United States, according to Consumer Reports.

Consumers are best off not buying precut fruits and vegetables. When buying fresh produce, avoid bruised or damaged ones. Washing produce can remove dirt and other debris, but it does not remove bacteria.

Flour — Raw flour and the dough and batter made with it is dangerous. Salmonella and E. Coli have been found raw flour and have sickened at least 44 people, not including a new outbreak of Salmonella infections just reported by the FDA with 12 people from coast to coast infected. Wheat can become contaminated by a variety of things in the fields and that contamination can be spread to large amounts of flour through the milling process. Consumers should not let children play with raw flour and no one should eat even small portions of raw batter or dough.

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