5 Foods With the Underrated Power to Poison You
Evolution and experience have told us certain foods teeter on the edge of becoming petri dishes, while others are perfectly safe. If something’s sticky, or otherwise associated with a gas station heat lamp, those are the foods we imagine will soon crawl with maggots or vast colonies of bacteria.
We’re often wrong with these assumptions. For example, did you know that a jar of mayo you buy will be just fine unrefrigerated, seemingly forever, even after you open it? Refrigeration helps preserve the flavor, but unrefrigerated mayonnaise won’t harbor germs. It’s too acidic for that. if you’re curious about the foods that really stand a risk of plopping you painfully on the toilet, consider instead that...
Raw Eggs Are Nothing. Raw Flour? That’ll Poison You
Don’t eat raw cookie dough, warn spoilsport experts. Don’t eat giant chunks of cookie dough, and don’t even lick the bowl. If you eat cookie dough ice cream or visit one of those quirky restaurants where they serve cookie dough as a snack, they treated the dough so it’s safe, while dough you make yourself isn’t. The obvious culprit is the raw eggs, which may be swimming with Salmonella that only die with baking.
The eggs aren’t the real danger, however. Oh, the eggs might have Salmonella, but that’s not why raw dough is dangerous. Anecdotally, you’ll find people who gulp down half a dozen raw eggs every day for years and get by with no issues. That’s a poor choice because you can’t absorb the protein that way, but let’s say you’ve convinced yourself you’re fine with raw eggs. The dough is still dangerous because of the raw flour.
Raw flour can be contaminated with E. coli, and with Salmonella, too. The CDC regularly investigates E. coli outbreaks and traces them to flour, with one case a couple months ago sending a few people to the hospital. It’s so surprising compared to the risk from eggs because you can keep a sack of flour in your kitchen or the storeroom of your sailing vessel for years without the stuff appearing to degrade in any way, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe to eat raw. Maybe it was never safe.
Ice Is the Most Dangerous Part of Any Restaurant Meal
You go to some hideous rundown diner and recoil at the sight of the food you order. You see hairs on your spaghetti. You see thumbprints on your fork. The only part of your meal in which you take comfort is the glass of Coke, which wasn’t brewed here by unwashed hands or even squeezed from a dispenser but poured out of a sealed container.
But that drink might be the most hazardous part of your meal. Everything else was cooked, while the drink contains ice cubes, which are (we’re pretty sure) not cooked and may have been fetched out of an ice machine that’s never cleaned. When epidemiologists get out their test tubes and hunt down the cause of norovirus infections in restaurants, they often find the culprit is the ice machine.
If you have some experience traveling in countries with unsafe drinking water, you may already know to ask for drinks without ice, since ice made from dysentery water tends to give you dysentery. But even clean water gives you dirty cubes, if you first pass it through a dirty machine on-premises.
Garlic Stored in Oil Breeds Botulism
We did some brainstorming and came up with a hypothetical food that’s safest from spoilage: garlic in oil. Garlic itself is considered so healthy, it’s practically medicinal, and while garlic cloves will tend to get moldy if you leave them for a while, if you preserve them in oil, you might imagine that jar can sit tight for decades. Nope. Store some garlic in oil, and you’re asking for it to culture Clostridium botulinum bacteria, landing you with a case of botulism.
Now, does that mean you can place oiled garlic on your face and feel your skin experience the perky befits of a Botox injection? Influencers say yes! (Doctors say no.)
Vegetables Get You Sick More Than Meat
On your left is fat pink chicken breast. On the right is a readymade salad you bought from the same supermarket. Which of the two is more likely to make you sick?
The chicken will, if you eat it raw, but you’re not going to eat it raw, of course. You’re going to cook it, you’ll wash the bowl or cutting board that held the chicken, and you’ll seal away in a garbage bag the plastic container that contained the raw meat before flies lay eggs in the chicken juice. The salad, however, you will eat raw. And this may be how your body gets infected by Cryptosporidium, the diarrheal parasites sometimes known as “crypto.”
On the other hand, if you’re asking which food is worse for your health long-term — the salad, or the chicken once you’ve deep fried it and wrapped it with bacon — that’s not the question we’re addressing today. In the long-term, we’re all dead.
Eat Three Kidney Beans, and That’s Toxic
You eat lettuce and tomatoes raw, but there are other vegetables you don’t eat raw and indeed should never eat raw. Consider the kidney bean. It seems like the sort of food that might benefit from cooking but would also be harmless enough if chewed up raw. Worst-case scenario, it would taste disgusting and pass through your digestive tract mostly unchanged.
The problem is, raw kidney beans are poisonous. They contain a protein called haemagglutinin or lectin, which cooking renders inactive but which in its raw state will fill your torso with pain and send you squirting out both ends. If rats get into a supply of kidney beans and gobble them up, they straight-up die, and you yourself need just three beans to get poisoned.
You can avoid this by buying canned beans, as those have been cooked, or ordering your beans from restaurants, which also cook their beans. Had you never heard this warning of ours, you might have gone your whole life without even considering buying raw kidney beans, or eating beans at all, thinking that’s just what people resort to when they can’t afford meat. But now that you know the truth, we think you should go and buy some raw beans and face the danger.
People regularly manage to prepare kidney beans at home just fine. So, we want you to go buy a sack of dried raw beans, maybe five pounds big. Follow all the standard cooking instructions. Soak the beans overnight in water. Boil them for an hour. Then eat a whole bowl of this food you’d otherwise have skipped. Think about the danger of phytohaemagglutinin, and stick a heaping spoon of beans in your mouth.
“Whoa,” you'll say. “This food is hardcore.”