These Are the Top 10 Foods Most Likely to Be Linked to Recalls and Disease Outbreaks

A new analysis from Consumer Reports lists the top 10 recalled food items, as well as best practices for staying safe while handling these products.

  • A recent analysis from Consumer Reports shared the top 10 recalled food items, as well as best practices for staying safe while handling these products.
  • Often, food eaten in its raw form or food from crowded farms (with unsanitary conditions) are most likely to be contaminated.
  • Experts recommend individuals pay close attention to cross contamination of meat products and thoroughly wash surfaces in order to avoid foodborne illnesses.

Recalled food items aren’t just reasons to clean out your fridge—they’re often confusing and scary, making individuals wonder if their family members have reason to be concerned about foodborne illness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 48 million individuals in the US are infected with salmonella, listeria, E. coli, or other foodborne illnesses every year. While many people recover on their own after a few days, an average of 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 people die from foodborne illnesses.

According to Robert Levokove, MD, emergency room attending at BronxCare Health System, foodborne illnesses are seen “nearly every shift. It’s hard to fully discern clinically if it’s a viral illness or from a food-borne source, but often patients will point to a questionable thing they ate leading to their symptoms.”

A recent analysis by Consumer Reports revealed the top 10 recalled foods you should be aware of and the best practices for keeping safe from these foods.

Photo Composite - Foods Likely to Be Recalled

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Determining Highly Recalled Food Items

To investigate these commonly recalled foods, Consumer Reports drew on data on foodborne illnesses from January 2017 through December 2022. They extracted data from regulatory agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Data analysis included tallying the total number of recalls and outbreaks associated with each different food and grouping the foods into risk categories.

Foods such as fruits and vegetables (often consumed while cold) were shown to have a higher risk of foodborne illness than foods grown in the ground. Foodborne illnesses analyzed included microbial contamination as well as Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, salmonella, and campylobacter. They did not include foods in the analysis that carry an inherent level of risk but are not widely consumed, such as raw milk.

Researchers found that many of the 10 food items on the report shared certain similarities, particularly foods commonly eaten in their raw state (like fruits and vegetables) and foods that may come from crowded farms with unsanitary conditions (like meat and poultry).

Top 10 Most Recalled Food Items

According to James Rogers, MD, Director of Food Safety Research and Testing at Consumer Reports, “Since we constantly monitor the state of foodborne illness in the US and because of our extensive experience in food safety, the items that ended up on the list were not that much of a surprise.”

While the list may possibly change in another 5 years, the top 10 foods linked to the most serious food recalls and outbreaks are:

  • Ground beef
  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Deli meats and cheeses
  • Onions
  • Papayas
  • Peaches
  • Cantaloupe
  • Flour
  • Leafy greens

What’s at Risk

Everyone knows you should immediately throw out recalled items that may still be in your fridge and pantry, but what are you actually trying to avoid? There are a few key things that spark most recalls and outbreaks.

Most commonly known, salmonella can be found in most of the items on the top 10 list, including deli meats and cheeses, ground beef, onions, turkey, chicken, papayas, peaches, cantaloupe, and flour. E. coli is commonly found in leafy greens and ground beef and listeria is found in deli meats and cheeses since it is able to survive in even the coldest temperatures of refrigerated grocery store cases. 

Dr. Rogers explained, “Any consumer can become sick from contaminated food. However, the immunocompromised, the older consumer, younger children, and the unborn are all at a higher risk for the after-effects of foodborne illnesses.”

The incubation period, or the period between exposure to an infection and the appearance of symptoms, can be anywhere from hours to days or weeks after eating the food. Dr. Levokove recommends seeking medical attention if “someone is completely unable to tolerate oral intake, fluids, and solids. In addition, severe abdominal pain, fainting, fevers, or blood in stool are red flags for further investigation or intervention.”

Eating High Risk Products Safely

Just because a food made the top 10 list doesn’t mean you need to eliminate it from your diet. There are many ways to eat and enjoy these foods while protecting yourself from foodborne illnesses.

For leafy greens, consider buying whole heads of lettuce and chopping it yourself instead of bagged greens. Remove the outer leaves where bacteria can hide and also opt for cooked greens such as kale, collard greens, or Swiss chard if you are at high risk. Similarly, avoid buying pre-cut fruit and buy whole melons, papayas, and peaches, wash them well, and cut them up yourself at home. Onions are typically cooked, which kills the bacteria. Avoid damaged and bruised fruits and vegetables as bacteria can more easily enter these tiny spaces. 

When handling meat and poultry, try to decrease cross-contamination of raw meat and other foods as much as possible. Use separate knives and cutting boards for raw meat and produce and always wash your hands well after handling raw meat and before touching other foods or surfaces.

Additionally, be mindful of the temperature, both cold and hot, when cooking with meat. Keep beef and poultry cold below 40 degrees and thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator. Ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees and whole cuts cooked to 145 degrees. Chicken and turkey should be cooked to 165 degrees. Since it is less likely you are going to cook sliced deli meats and cheese, it is recommended to buy prepackaged slices instead of purchasing from the deli counter. 

While tempting, avoid eating raw cookie or brownie dough and batter to protect yourself from any bacteria present in the unbaked flour or eggs. In addition, wash surfaces well after baking to avoid the powdery flour from flying around your kitchen and contaminating other foods or surfaces. 

As challenging as it is to completely avoid foodborne illnesses, fearing foods and cutting them out just isn’t practical or worth it. There are many steps you can take to protect yourself from contracting a foodborne illness including staying on top of food recalls through news from grocery stores and federal agencies and educating yourself about ways to safely eat foods that run the risk of containing harmful bacteria.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Foodborne germs and illnesses.

  2. Consumer Reports. 10 Risky recalled foods you should know about.

  3. Consumer Reports. Foods linked to the most serious food recalls and outbreaks, 2017-2022 [methodology].

  4. Brown LG, Hoover ER, Faw BV, et al. Food safety practices linked with proper refrigerator temperatures in retail delis. Foodborne Pathog Dis. 2018;15(5):300-307. doi:10.1089/fpd.2017.2358

  5. USDA. Cooking meat? Check the new recommended temperatures.

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