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Foodborne Illness and High-Risk Foods

Contributors: Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN

Published: July 21, 2022

Reviewed: June 27, 2022

hot dog
MSPhotographic/iStock/Thinkstock

Everyone is at risk for foodborne illness, or food poisoning, but some people are more vulnerable to its effects. Adults age 65 and older, young children, pregnant individuals and those with weakened immune systems are at higher risk. That's why it's important to make wise food choices and always keep food safety in mind when handling food.

Avoid High-Risk Foods

Some foods come with a greater risk of food poisoning. These include:

  • Raw or undercooked meat or poultry
  • Raw or undercooked fish and shellfish, including sashimi, sushi or ceviche
  • Refrigerated smoked fish
  • Unpasteurized, or raw, milk
  • Soft cheeses made from unpasteurized, or raw, milk, including Feta, Brie, Camembert, Blue-veined varieties and Queso fresco
  • Foods that contain raw or undercooked eggs – like raw cookie dough*, homemade eggnog, mayonnaise and Caesar dressing.
  • Raw sprouts
  • Unwashed fresh vegetables (including lettuce and salads)
  • Hot dogs, deli and luncheon meats that have not been reheated to 165°F
  • Unpasteurized, refrigerated pâtés or meat spread.

*Raw cookie dough that does not use eggs may still be a high-risk food if it contains flour.

Choose Lower Risk Foods

Lower risk options are available for many of the foods listed above. These include:

  • Meat, poultry and shellfish cooked to safe internal temperatures.
  • Packaged salad dressings and condiments, such as Caesar dressing and mayonnaise, which are made with pasteurized eggs or pasteurized egg products.
  • Pasteurized milk, cheese and eggnog
  • Canned or shelf-stable pâtés or meat spreads
  • Canned fish and seafood.

Safe Food Handling Tips

Choosing lower-risk foods is only part of the equation. Everyone should practice safe food handling. Follow the four steps of food safety whenever you’re working with food — clean, separate, cook and chill. This will help reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

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