WebMD, the popular website for checking on symptoms and finding a medical doctor, has published a list of foods “most likely” to cause foodborne illness.

Certain foods, more than others, are linked to foodborne illnesses, according to federal public health officials. WebMD reports its “most likely” list from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are:

  • Chicken, beef, pork, turkey
  • Vegetables and fruits
  • Raw milk, cheese, other dairy products
  • Raw eggs
  • Seafood and raw shellfish
  • Sprouts
  • Raw flour

WebMD says its unlikely anyone can entirely avoid foodborne illnesses, but a reduced likelihood is possible from understanding the risks and practicing safe food handling techniques.

According to CDC estimates, about 48 million, or 1 in 6 people in the United States become ill annually from foodborne diseases. WebMD says many of those illnesses are mild, “causing simple discomfort up to misery from nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps for 24 to 48 hours.”

The medical help site reiterates CDC’s data, which estimates foodborne illnesses annually cause about 128,000 people in the U.S. to be admitted. About 3,000 deaths each year are attributed to foodborne pathogens.

“Any food can be infected with more than 250 foodborne diseases. Bacteria, parasites, viruses, chemicals, and toxins can contaminate food,” WebMD warns.

WebMD’s review of foodborne illness dangers is timely because of the current national outbreak involving romaine lettuce. Its title is a question: “Can You Avoid Foodborne Illness?”

Answers to that question come from CDC and prominent food safety experts like Barbara Kowalcyk, Ph.D., assistant professor of food science and technology at Ohio State University-Columbus, and co-founder of the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention.

Kowalcyk warns that while people think of foodborne illnesses as causing sickness for short periods of time, like 24 to 48 hours, longer-term problems can result such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or reactive arthritis

Also, some populations are more susceptible to foodborne illness than others, such as pregnant women, young children, and older adults.

Anyone with a weakened immune system (such as people with diabetes, liver or kidney disease, or HIV or getting cancer treatments) are among the vulnerable.

Kowalcyk says consumers need to stay on top of outbreak and recall news and check their own homes to be sure they are not eating any recalled products at home.

Editor’s note: Kathleen Doheny wrote the WebMD report. Brunilda Nazario, MD, reviewed it on April 27.

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