The Dirt on Dirty Food

pearsHepatitis A may have been the disease that ended up sickening 575 Chi-Chi’s patrons and employees–and killing three–but a batch of green onions was the carrier. Dirty food.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that every day, 200,000 Americans contract food poisoning. But Philip Tierno, Ph.D., a microbiologist at New York University medical center and author of The Secret Life of Germs, pegs the true eat-’em-and-weep rate at around 800,000 a day. “Everyone in this country will have at least one incident of sickness this year attributable to a food-borne virus, bacteria, or toxin,” Tierno says. Except that most of us won’t know what hit us; we’ll chalk up the usually mild symptoms–nausea, diarrhea, cramping–to “that stomach flu that’s going around.”

Scientists currently know of only one 100 percent foolproof way to prevent food poisoning: Stop eating. Or, almost as effective, obsess over every morsel you bring to your mouth and whether it might be staring back at you. But assuming you’d rather not die of slow starvation or, worse, live like Nick Nolte, we present you with a third, saner solution: Identify and sanitize the 10 dirtiest foods.

After considering incidence of outbreaks, relative danger of the dirt, and how often the carrier is found on our forks, we came up with a list of the edibles most likely to send your day spiraling down the crapper. We then assembled simple strategies for decontaminating the prime suspects–from the supermarket to the supper table–without worrying yourself sick. And what if, as with Jeff Cook, someone else does the cooking? We also tell you how to spot a dirty restaurant. Add it all up and what we’re giving you is a recipe–for clean living. Click through the photo gallery above to learn more

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