Are raw foods safe to eat?
Vegetables, fruits and nuts are loaded with nutrition and vitamins. Because they are raw, none of the vitamins get lost during cooking. But are there raw foods we should avoid?
The main concern with eating raw (uncooked or unpasteurized) foods is food poisoning. Pasteurization is a process that uses heat to destroy bacteria in foods. Without this, bacteria such as salmonella, listeria and E. coli can spread and cause infection. The salmonella bacterium, for example, harms more than one million people each year, causing:
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
Consuming foodborne bacteria can be life-threatening for:
- Infants and young children
- Pregnant women
- The elderly
- Individuals with a weakened immune system, such as those with cancer or HIV
- People with a chronic medical condition, like diabetes
Fruits and vegetables
To limit the potential for food poisoning from bacteria, always wash fruits and vegetables. These foods can contain traces of bacteria from the chain of food handlers, so never eat produce that you haven’t properly cleaned.
Nuts, seeds and grains
Some people germinate seeds and nuts before eating them to boost their nutritional value or remove any harmful compounds. This process, known as sprouting, requires a warm and humid environment, which is exactly the type of environment favored by bacteria. While you may think it is safer to grow sprouts in your home after washing the seeds, there is no guarantee bacteria aren’t present.
Flour is made from ground wheat berries — the whole-kernel form of wheat. This whole grain can make people sick if eaten raw. Most people consider raw cookie dough to be dangerous because of uncooked eggs, but the raw flour can also be unsafe. Also, be careful with flour-based dough that children play with or use to make crafts. Cooking is the only way to ensure that dough made from flour is safe.
Raw foods from animal sources
Foods from animal sources are the most likely to carry bacteria that can make you sick. These include:
- Seafood and shellfish
- Unpasteurized milk or dairy products
Uncooked meat, poultry, eggs or seafood can lead to foodborne illness. You may even cross-contaminate fruits and vegetables if you prepare them on a cutting board that was used for raw animal products.
How to prevent foodborne illness
- Wash your hands after handling any food that may have come in contact with bacteria.
- Clean surfaces that may be contaminated often.
- Use separate cutting boards for raw meat preparation and cook foods from animal sources to ensure you’ve killed the bacteria.
- Use a food thermometer to ensure that the internal temperature is at least:
- 160° F for meat
- 165° F for poultry
- 160° F for egg dishes
- 145° F for fish
- 165° F for leftovers
You can learn more about nutrition dos and don’ts from the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition.