37 Foods That Are Dangerous if Not Prepared Properly



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Risky Meals

Supermarkets spare us from having to forage for our meals in the wild, but most still carry foods that can cause serious illness — or even death — when improperly prepared. From common staples to rare delicacies from around the world, many foods can pose a risk if not handled properly. Here are 37 items to consume cautiously.

Fresh Young Whole Chicken

1. Chicken

All chicken should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees before eating. Otherwise, the poultry may serve as a carrier for all sorts of bacteria that cause food poisoning, including salmonella and campylobacter. The practice of eating raw chicken, or torisashi, is nonetheless common in Japan and at some stateside sushi restaurants.

Raw Pork Chops

2. Pork

For safest results, pork should be cooked to at least medium. Raw pork can be infected with a worm parasite called trichinella spiralis, which pigs get from eating other meat. Parasitic infections have become less common in the U.S. thanks to modern farming techniques, so it’s possible to try undercooked or raw pork, provided you can confirm the pig was fed a vegetarian diet.

Raw Eggs

3. Raw Eggs

Raw eggs were an essential part of a boxer's diet in "Rocky," but consuming them in real life can be dangerous. About one in every 30,000 raw eggs are infected with salmonella bacteria, so food poisoning is possible but generally quite rare.

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Raw Honey
Stinging Nettles

5. Stinging Nettles

Often regarded as an invasive weed, stinging nettles contain formic acids that cause a burning sensation when touched. Get rid of these acids as well as the prickly spines by blanching the nettles in saltwater. The cooked leaves can be used to make tea or a spinach substitute, and are rich in protein, vitamins, iron, potassium, and calcium.

Related: Cheap and Easy Chicken Recipes


6. Rhubarb

Rhubarb stalks are vibrant, tart, and taste great when cooked with sugar into a homemade pie or cobbler. The leaves, however, contain high levels of oxalic acid, a corrosive that can lead to kidney failure and even death. Nonetheless, the toxic leaves are sometimes treated to remove the oxalic acid and used in flavoring extracts.

Fugu (Pufferfish)

7. Fugu (Pufferfish)

Fugu, or pufferfish, is so difficult to prepare safely that Japanese law dictates only chefs with three or more years of rigorous training may do so. The fish contains lethal amounts of the poisonous tetrodotoxin, for which there is no known antidote. In more recent years, farmers have found some success in breeding poison-free pufferfish by isolating them from tetrodotoxin-laden food sources.

Blood Clams

8. Blood Clams

Cultured from South Africa to northern Japan, blood clams live in low-oxygen environments and filter up to 40 liters of seawater a day, making them more likely to absorb harmful bacteria and viruses including hepatitis, typhoid, and dysentery. The common Chinese preparation of boiling the clams very briefly leaves these viruses intact. Unsurprisingly, they were banned in Shanghai following a hepatitis A outbreak in 1988.


9. Potatoes

The sprouts and stems (commonly known as eyes) that grow on potatoes as they age contain glycoalkaloids that can cause cramping, diarrhea, coma, and death when consumed in large quantities. They can also be present in the flesh of potatoes, but you can guard against this by storing them properly and throwing out any that develop a greenish tinge.

Silver Stripe Blaasop
Silver Stripe Blaasop by Martin (CC BY-SA)

10. Silver Stripe Blaasop

The liver, skin, and reproductive organs of silver stripe blaasop all contain a poisonous substance known to cause respiratory failure and fatal muscle paralysis in humans. Nevertheless, the bony fish has been a favorite for centuries in some parts of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Giant Bullfrogs

11. Giant Bullfrogs

Giant Namibian bullfrogs are a delicacy throughout much of Africa, but aficionados know to wait until after the third rain of spring, when the frogs start croaking and breeding, to consume them. Otherwise, the frog's skin and organs can contain harmful toxins that lead to kidney failure and often death.


12. Elderberries

A common ingredient in pies and jams, globular black elderberries grow from a tree whose other components — including its bark, leaves, roots, and buds — contain bitter alkaloids that produce hydrocyanic acid. To avoid vomiting and other gastrointestinal upsets, eat only the berries and save the flowers for herbal teas and the leaves for external ointments.

Castor Oil

13. Castor Oil

Castor oil is often used in food additives and flavorings, as well as in soaps, lubricants, laxatives, paints, plastics, and perfume. Castor seeds contain the toxic enzyme ricin, which is deactivated by heat during the oil extraction process but is a powerful poison if left unheated. Castor oil shouldn't be consumed by pregnant women, as it can cause premature contractions.


14. Nutmeg

Nutmeg may add a nice kick to egg nog or gingerbread, but ingesting just two to three teaspoons of the spice can prove fatal. Some eat or smoke large quantities of the ground seed as a cheap hallucinogen, though its effects sound decidedly unpleasant, triggering symptoms such as nausea, burning abdomen pain, and a sense of impending dread.

San Nakji
San Nakji by Raelene Gutierrez (CC BY)

15. San-Nakji (Live Octopus)

This Korean raw dish is made with long arm octopus, served alive and whole or chopped into smaller pieces that still wriggle posthumously. Either way, the dish poses a serious choking hazard, since the octopuses' tentacles can still use suction cups to attach themselves to one's mouth or throat.

Bamboo Shoots

16. Bamboo Shoots

A common addition to Asian soups and noodle dishes, bamboo shoots are the only part of the plant that's edible to humans, and even these must be boiled and have their fibrous exteriors cut away before consumption. The raw shoots contain toxins that produce cyanide in the body.


17. Ackee

Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica, commonly used like a vegetable to create a scrambled egg-like side dish. Only the yellow parts of the strange-looking specimen should be consumed, as eating the red portions — or any of the fruit when it's not yet ripe — can result in hypoglycemia and seizures, collectively called Jamaican vomiting sickness.


18. Tuna

Tuna tends to be high in mercury and shouldn't be consumed too often. That means no more than three times a week for most adults, and no more than three 3-ounce portions a month for children under six, depending on the type of tuna. Ingesting too much mercury can cause serious damage to the heart, kidney, and lungs.


19. Lychee

As with ackee, eating lychee fruit before it's fully ripe can be toxic and sometimes fatal, prompting fever and convulsions, especially on an empty stomach. The side effects are caused by toxins in unripe green lychee that block the body's production of sugar, leading to hypoglycemia and changes in brain function.

Asparagus Berries

20. Asparagus Berries

Asparagus spears are fine, if not exactly palatable, to eat raw, but the plant itself also produces bright red berries that are toxic to humans (and cats and dogs). But coming into contact with the berries is likely only to be a problem for those who grow their own asparagus.

Luis Echeverri Urrea/istockphoto

21. Cassava

A major source of carbohydrates throughout the tropics, the root vegetable cassava must be soaked for up to 24 hours and cooked before eating. When raw, cassava contain chemicals that metabolize to create cyanide, which reaches especially dangerous levels in bitter cassava grown during droughts, leading to death or development of a goiter from long-term exposure.

Bitter Almonds

22. Bitter Almonds

All almonds contain some level of cyanide, but the sweet almonds found in your average grocery store don't have enough to be dangerous. Bitter almonds found in the wild, on the other hand, can contain as much as 50 times more cyanide, so eating even a handful can lead to nausea, headache, rapid heart rate, slowed heart rate, respiratory failure, and death.

Raw Cashews

23. Raw Cashews

The raw cashews found in the supermarket aren't actually raw, but have been heat-treated to remove a hazardous chemical called urushiol, also found in poison ivy. Consuming truly raw cashews straight from the tree can cause skin rashes and extreme, sometimes fatal, allergic reactions.

Red Scorpion Cod
Red Scorpion Cod by Brian Gratwicke (CC BY)

24. Red Scorpionfish

Though red scorpionfish is renowned for its rich, flaky, crab-like flavor, many fishermen in its native South Pacific refuse to reel it in. That's because the blotchy, mud-colored creature has perilously spiky fins and deploys venom through 12 to 13 spines on its body. A red scorpionfish's sting is said to cause excruciating pain lasting as long as half a day.

Inky Cap Mushrooms

25. Inky Cap Mushrooms

Some mushrooms found in the wild are poisonous (or even fatal!) when eaten, but inky caps usually aren't one of them. Mild in flavor, inky caps are only dangerous when consumed with alcohol (even within several hours), leading to a short-lived condition called disulfiram syndrome. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, malaise, and tingling in the limbs. Severity is proportional to the amount of alcohol consumed.


26. Raw Milk

Though most dairy products sold in the U.S. are made from pasteurized milk, those made from raw milk have become more common in recent years, despite their increased risk of contamination. From 1993 to 2006, more than 1,500 consumers became sick from consuming raw milk or cheese, which are more likely than pasteurized products to harbor dangerous bacteria like salmonella, E. coli, and listeria.


27. Starfruit

Starfruit can be used as an herbal remedy and is generally harmless, except for people with kidney disease. Healthy kidneys usually process and remove the toxins present in starfruit, but those with chronic kidney problems are susceptible to neurological problems including confusion, seizures, and sometimes death.


28. Stonefish

Stonefishes are among the most venomous sea creatures known to man, but as usual, that hasn't stopped us from eating it. Considered a delicacy throughout East Asia, the fish can be cooked to break down its protein-based venom, or served as raw sushi with its dorsal fins, the main source of venom, removed.

Monkey Brains

29. Monkey Brains

Many movies depict monkey brains as a disturbing fixture of exotic cuisines, but the controversial dish is now illegal in China and exceptionally rare in general. This aversion may be because consuming nervous system tissue leads to transmission of fatal encephalopathies such as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Casu Marzu
Casu Marzu by Shardan (CC BY-SA)

30. Casu Marzu

Also known as "the rotting cheese," Casu Marzu is an age-old Sardinian delicacy made from rotten sheep's milk fermented with live fly larvae, or maggots. These can sometimes survive in the human intestine, leading to parasitic infestations as well as vomiting and bloody diarrhea. The pungent cheese has been outlawed in the European Union, though some Sardinians still make it.

Brazil Nuts

31. Brazil Nuts

Brazil nuts themselves are a good source of dietary fibers, minerals, and fatty acids, but their shells have been found to contain high levels of aflatoxin, one of the world's most dangerous carcinogens, causing liver cancer and stunted growth in children. For this reason, the European Union imposed strict regulations on the importation of Brazil nuts in shell.

Raw Red Kidney Beans

32. Raw Red Kidney Beans

Red kidney beans taste bitter when consumed straight off the vine, and worse, they contain a toxin called phytohaemagglutinin, also called kidney bean lectin. Symptoms of lectin poisoning are generally short-lived but can include severe nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Soaking the beans in water for five hours or more reduces the toxin to levels your body can manage.

Lima Beans

33. Lima Beans

Raw lima beans contain their own toxin called limarin, which is fatal in large doses and causes stomach aches in small ones. The toxin is easily neutralized by boiling the beans for 15 minutes, as is done for all canned varieties.

itsarasak thithuekthak/istockphoto

34. Chaya

Also called tree spinach, chaya is a leafy vegetable native to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and common in Central American cuisine. The pronged leaves should be immersed and simmered in oil before eating to remove their stinging hairs and inactivate its toxic, cyanide-producing compounds. Cooked chaya boasts exceptional levels of calcium, iron, and protein, higher than any other land-based vegetable.

Fruit Seeds and Pits
john shepherd/istockphoto

35. Fruit Seeds and Pits

The seeds and pits from many of the most common fruits — including apples, peaches, pears, mangos, cherries, and apricots — contain a chemical called amygdalin that can turn into cyanide. Thankfully, you'd have to consume an uncommonly large quantity to see any adverse reaction.

Tomatoes - Summer

36. Tomatoes

We don't need to tell you not to eat the green stems on a tomato, do we? If we do, here's the reason: The stems contain tomatine, which can be toxic when ingested. Of course,it's not like you're going to keel over if you get some on your lips, but with enough of it, your stomach isn't going to be happy.

korean bean sprout soup

37. Bean Sprouts

Because bean sprouts are so often served raw, they can run the risk of carrying food-borne illnesses like E. coli and salmonella. You'll see them all the time in dishes like phở, salads, and sandwiches. If you're buying them yourself, make sure to give them a thorough inspection and washing before eating.