Food Safety Tips: Common Foods, Unsuspecting Results

Nov 10, 2017

Group of FoodYour home is your sanctuary and you want to keep it safe. Your burglar alarm has given you peace of mind along with the mouse traps in the garage. You are careful to not give your address to just anyone and your kids know the safety rules when they are home alone. But what about the predators that you voluntarily bring into your home? Many foods and other items commonly found on your grocery list can turn into unsuspecting home dangers, and we have the tips to keep you and your family safe from them!

1. Cinnamon & Nutmeg

While cinnamon may seem harmless, it can be lethal. In small portions, it’s perfectly safe for children (and adults) to consume but cinnamon presents an inhalation/choking hazard along with a toxicity hazard in large doses (as can other spices). Why? It’s made primarily of cellulose, which doesn’t break down easily leading to possible choking, vomiting, gagging, asthma attacks or lung damage (potentially permanent damage).

To boot, teens have made a game out of consuming cinnamon without water - it’s called the Cinnamon Challenge. The YouTube videos became popular in 2012 which led many teenagers to take part. The influx of poison control calls, ER visits and hospitalizations were astounding. The journal Pediatrics reports in more detail the medical risks for adolescents.

Did you know that nutmeg is a hallucinogenic? The otherwise popular holiday spice doesn’t get a lot of press but it can be lethal even in small doses. Be sure to follow your recipes, which often call for trace amounts of nutmeg and keep all spices out of reach of small children (educate older kids on the dangers).

Related: An FDA report shows 12% of imported spices to be contaminated with human filth and some with salmonella. Will you get sick from these spices in small amounts? Probably not, but be mindful of what you are consuming and in what quantities!

2. Liquor

Adults are cautioned against consuming too much alcohol as the effects are well understood, but researchers are just starting to learn how even small amounts affect adolescents. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports harm to liver, bones, the endocrine system, brain development and growth. Alcohol dependence is also a risk factor. Keeping alcohol out of your home or locked away is a great first step..

Pro Tip: For help on having the conversation with your children and educating them on the risks of underage drinking, visit www.kidshealth.org.

3. Foods That Can Cause Choking

Young children don’t always chew thoroughly and therefore should be monitored closely for choking hazards. You’ve already heard about avoiding sticky foods such as honey or peanut butter, but what about the unusual suspects? For children under the age of five, the Nationwide Children's organization recommends avoiding foods that are round and hard, such as:

  • Hot dogs
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Chunks of meat or cheese
  • Whole grapes
  • Hard, gooey, or sticky candy
  • Popcorn
  • Raw vegetables
  • Raisins
  • Chewing gum
  • Marshmallows


They also recommend cutting food into half-inch pieces (or smaller) since children like to swallow food whole. Avoid letting them walk (and run) around with their food or even eat in the car - if they choke while you are driving, you may not be able to respond quickly (and you may cause an accident).

Pro Tip: The National Safety Council provides choking prevention and rescue tips so that you can be prepared in case of a food-related emergency.

4. Raw Meat

Handling raw meat can be tricky. The first rule of thumb is to keep raw meat separate from your cooked food. This means washing the plate you carried the meat to the grill on once it’s ready to be taken off the grill. It also means not using “room temperature” to thaw your meat because bacteria can grow and thrive when food is left out too long (thaw it in the fridge overnight or in the microwave).

You want to wash your hands thoroughly (before and after handling raw meat) but you don’t want to wash the meat itself! It used to be recommended to wash poultry of its suspected germs prior to cooking it, but that is a thing of the past now. Why? Because those potential germs are splattered around your work area thanks to water molecules flying everywhere.

Pro Tip: Don’t just eyeball it! For safe cooking temperatures, visit www.foodsafety.gov.

5. Seafood

Getting your Omega 3’s is without-a-doubt important, but too much fish can lead to mercury poisoning. But, are consumers being misled as to what levels are safe, especially for pregnant women? The Environmental Working Group (EWG) believes that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) needs to tighten up its safety standards when it comes to seafood and shellfish. Below is the EWG’s recommendation for pregnant or nursing women and those with heart disease.

High Omega 3/Low Mercury/Sustainable

  • Wild salmon
  • Sardines
  • Mussels
  • Rainbow trout
  • Atlantic mackerel

High Omega 3/Low Mercury

  • Oysters
  • Anchovies
  • Pollock/Imitation crab
  • Herring

Low Omega 3/Low mercury

  • Shrimp
  • Catfish
  • Tilapia
  • Clams
  • Scallops
  • Pangasius (Basa, Swai, or Tra)

High Mercury/Limit

  • Canned light and albacore tuna
  • Halibut
  • Lobster
  • Mahi Mahi
  • Sea bass
High Mercury/Avoid


  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Tilefish
  • King mackerel
  • Marlin
  • Bluefin and bigeye tuna steaks or sushi
Orange roughy

Pro Tip: Since the EPA’s safe seafood levels were set in 2001, a multi-year process to revise its assessment of mercury toxicity has been launched. In the meantime, refer to EWG’s general recommendations or, for customization, a seafood intake calculator for your specific weight, gender, age and health status!

6. Canning Your Food

Many well-intentioned gardeners end up causing harm to themselves when their canning efforts have unknowingly gone wrong. When common foods like veggies and fruit are improperly canned, botulism becomes a big risk.

What is botulism?

There is a germ found in dirt that can end up in your canned or fermented foods if not done properly. According to the CDC, it can cause nerve damage, paralysis and death but this toxin leaves no signs for detection.

Pro Tip: Check out the CDC’s website for symptoms of botulism and be sure to follow their proper home canning guide.

7. Other Potentially Harmful Foods

The foods on this list can be toxic when not handled properly or eaten to excess. Listen to your body and remove any suspect foods for a while if you feel there might be an issue.

  • Almonds - Raw varieties contain 4-9 mg of hydrogen cyanide.
  • Cherries - The pip (pit) produces hydrogen cyanide when chewed or crushed (also containing toxic seeds: apples, apricots, peaches, plums).
  • Chocolate - Contains the alkaloid theobromine, which is what makes it so harmful to dogs. A person would have to ingest an unusually high dose to be affected.
  • Potatoes - Contain toxins called glycoalkaloids (solanine and chaconine); cook at high temperatures and don’t eat them once they’ve turned green (higher concentrations of solanine).
  • Rhubarb - The leaves contain oxalic acid, which causes kidney stones. It takes 11 pounds to be fatal and significantly to cause serious illness.
  • Salt - Too much can cause vomiting.
  • Tapioca - Can be toxic if not processed properly due to cyanide, whose precursor, linamarin, is rendered harmless if properly dried, soaked and baked.
  • Tomato stems and leaves - Contain glycoalkaloid, which is a chemical used to control pests.

Pro tip: Find out if you have any food allergies or sensitives often not detected by your doctor with this easy home test.

Hidden dangers are lurking everywhere, but a little bit of knowledge can go a long way. Keep your home as safe as possible with these food safety tips! Contact us for more resources or information.



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