Earning the top five spots on the list are—you guessed it—animal products: chicken, ground beef, ground turkey, raw oysters, and eggs. Throw in the fact that cold cuts made the list at ninth place and it’s no wonder that a vegetarian diet reigns as the safest and most healthful.
There’s a good chance of pickin’ a chicken that’ll give you a fever, diarrhea, or nausea. In one study, the Consumers Union found bacteria in 42 percent of the raw “broiler” chickens examined. The extremely close quarters that chickens are forced to endure—each individual bird is crammed into space about the size of a sheet of paper—lead to rampant disease. Farmers feed chickens antibiotics to combat bacterial infections that lead to human illnesses, but the Consumers Union study, published in Consumer Reports, found campylobacter in 42 percent and salmonella in 12 percent of the nearly 500 supermarket chickens examined and further revealed that as many as 90 percent of those bacteria were resistant to antibiotics.
In addition to the dangers posed by bacterial infection, if you eat chicken, you may also be running a risk of arsenic poisoning. Surprisingly, arsenic is approved for use in animal feed. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has found that just 2 ounces of chicken can contain up to 5.2 micrograms of arsenic. It has also been found that people who consume a lot of chicken may be ingesting more than 50 micrograms of arsenic every day—and that even 10 to 40 micrograms per day can lead to skin, respiratory, and bladder cancers.
According to USDA inspectors, even a small portion of beef can cause illness. An estimated one out of every four cows who enter a slaughterhouse may be infected with E. coli. When butchers gut cows, they sometimes rupture the animals’ intestines, and since E. coli is spread through contact with fecal matter, cows’ flesh can become infected with the bacteria during this procedure.
As if the threat of E. coli weren’t bad enough, another USDA study discovered a second scary bacteria—clostridium perfringens, which causes cramps and diarrhea—in 53 percent of the tested beef. It’s no surprise that beef is swarming with bugs: Cows are fed an unnatural diet of high-bulk grains laced with “fillers” that can include expired dog and cat food and poultry feces.
Don’t gobble it down, warns Men’s Health. “A USDA survey showed that the odds are better than one in four that … ground gobbler contains Listeria, Campylobacter, Clostridium, or some combination of the three,” according to the special report. And the practice of pumping birds full of antibiotics, which is common on factory farms, may be encouraging the rise of resistant bacteria.
Think twice before ordering “hell on the half shell.” A study revealed the presence of salmonellosis in 9 percent of oysters from “so-called certified-safe beds” and E. coli in 100 percent of oysters from beds in the Gulf Coast. Eating these “filters for ocean waste” might make you waste your day in the bathroom.
Eating an egg sunny-side up can leave you feeling sunny-side down. Hens raised for their eggs in factory farms are given feed laced with antibiotics (to fight the infections that would otherwise result from the filthy conditions and close confinement) and pesticides (to control fly populations). More than a million salmonella-related cases of food poisoning occur every year, some 600 of which prove to be fatal. Eggs infected with salmonella pose a threat to one out of every 50 people each year.
Give ’em the cold shoulder. “Without regular cleaning,” says Men’s Health, “the [deli slicer’s] blade can transfer [Listeria] bacteria from roast beef to turkey to pastrami and back.” Bacteria are normally killed during cooking, but deli meats aren’t usually cooked. Researchers from the USDA, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have collectively identified cold cuts as “high risk” foods.