Top 10 Foods that Kill
In the last two months, eight people have been sickened by drinking raw milk tainted with the E. coli bacteria, which was traced to a farm in Gibbon, Minnesota. It's been known for some time that anyone who drinks raw milk is essentially playing craps with their health--that's why they invented pasteurization--but raw milk is only one of many dangerous, and potentially fatal, foods people commonly eat. Here are 10 of the deadliest:
10. GRILLED MEATS
Grilled or roasted meats can kill you, but it's a slow and very pleasant death. You get to eat all the delicious barbecued chicken, burgers, and steaks you want, and in 40 years you get cancer. The culprit is a toxin called heterocyclic amines, which develops in well-charred meat cooked at high temperatures. The good news: You apparently have to eat a lot of well-cooked meat to be at risk.
Ironic, no? Leafy greens are No. 1 on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's list of riskiest foods to eat. The FDA blamed 363 outbreaks of food-borne illnesses in 2009 on lettuces of all kinds, which sickened over 13,500 people. The greens can be contaminated by unwashed hands of a food worker or family member, or by manure and contaminated water at the farm. And we're not just talking bad stomachache and diarrhea: The FDA says food illnesses can lead to problems "as serious as kidney failure or death."
Who knew? One of America's favorite comfort foods--the stuff of potato chips, fries, and mashed potatoes--has one very discomforting property: The stalk, leaves, and the potato itself contain toxic glycoalkaloids, which, if ingested, have been known to cause coma or death. It's usually not a problem unless you're partial to potato-leaf tea, or if you eat green or damaged spuds. If it sprouts, throw it out.
Oysters might not be considered an aphrodisiac if more people knew this: The raw shellfish, especially those harvested from warmer waters such as the Gulf of Mexico, can carry the Vibrio vulnificus bacteria, which is blamed for 50 to 60 serious illnesses each year. Of those who develop a blood infection from the bacteria, half will die, according to a report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Mon amour!
6. HOT DOGS
When it comes to fatal foods, hot dogs are a triple threat. They're often grilled (see above), and they might be tainted with bacteria, but the reason they're on this list is their nasty habit of choking people to death. The slick little tubes can act like a rubber stopper on your windpipe. Roughly 17 percent of food-related asphyxiations in children under 10 are caused by hot dogs, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
There's a good reason many airlines are switching over to pretzels. Roughly 1 percent of the population has a potentially life-threatening peanut allergy, and the nut is the most common cause of food-allergy deaths. In America, about 100 people a year die from peanut allergies.
We've all heard the stories: A group of friends are out for a pleasant day of mushroom hunting, enjoying the birds, ferns, and fresh air, and then--boom!--by nightfall they're in the back of an ambulance with a failing liver, intravenous lines, and a disembodied voice shouting, "Stay with me now!" There are many thousands of varieties of mushrooms around the world, but only 32 are considered to be killers. The deadliest of the fungi is Amanita phalloides, the "death cap" mushroom, which looks much like edible varieties.
Thankfully, it's hard to find a cassava in the U.S., but they are eaten extensively in Caribbean and South America. The starchy, bitter root is saturated with cyanide and must be elaborately prepared to make it edible. Otherwise, it's a good bet for irreversible paralysis or death. Cassava poisoning is common enough that it even has its own name: konzo.
What is it with Caribbeans and poisonous foods? Jamaicans have no problem eating ackee, even though the unripe fruit contains a poison called hypoglycin. If eaten before its seed pods are fully open and ripe, the ackee can cause the charmingly named Jamaican Vomiting Sickness. Jamaicans seem unfazed by this; they have named ackee their national fruit.
1. JAPANESE PUFFERFISH
Also known as fugu when served in Japanese restaurants, the Japanese pufferfish is one of the most poisonous vertebrates in the world. The danger isn't in the edible meat but in the fish's organs, like the intestines and liver, which contain a poison so toxic that a tiny drop would be enough to kill 30 people. The tetrodotoxin causes muscle paralysis, which eventually stops a victim's breathing. Eating a pufferfish is an expensive thrill. A plate of the stuff can cost $200, partly because the chefs must undergo two to three years of training to make sure they fillet the fish precisely. One wrong move and you're a dead gourmand. And of course, no one knows the perils of fugu more than Homer Simpson: