The 10 Foods Most Linked to Recalls and Disease Outbreaks

According to Consumer Reports.

It may feel like food recalls are impacting every aisle in the grocery store these days, but as it turns out, there are a handful of foods—think bagged salad and fresh produce—that are recalled more frequently than others. These recalls, often triggered by the presence of salmonella, listeria, E. coli, or other bacteria or viruses in food, cause an estimated 48 million people to fall ill each year, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In an effort to find out which foods are the leading culprits when it comes to making people sick, the team at Consumer Reports closely examined food recalls and foodborne disease outbreaks from 2017 through 2022, analyzing data from the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Department of Agriculture. The team narrowed down the data to include only widely consumed foods that were recalled because of bacterial contamination (as opposed to allergens or the presence of extraneous materials, like plastic), and then ranked the recalls and the foods associated with them. The ranking system was based on how many people died or became ill, as well as how widespread the outbreaks were, how many times a certain food was recalled, and the total amount of food recalled.

While the list isn’t intended to prevent people from buying certain foods entirely, according to Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumer Reports, who led the analysis, it highlights the “importance of following best food safety practices with all of your foods, including knowing how to track, and respond, to food recalls when they happen.”

Check out the list of the most recalled foods below.

Leafy Greens

The leafy greens category includes lettuces such as kale, spinach, and Swiss chard, but when it comes to recalls, romaine lettuce and bagged salads are the worst offenders. Per the data, they can often carry E. coli, listeria, and were responsible for more deaths than any other food on this list. Bacteria can spread via contaminated water used to irrigate the fields where lettuce grows, and can also occasionally become contaminated at the processing plant. Since packaged greens are processed at a small number of facilities around the country, it’s not uncommon for a single contamination to spread to many different products and impact millions of cases of food. Additionally, since salad greens are often eaten raw, consumers don’t frequently use cooking methods that might otherwise kill harmful bacteria. 

To avoid getting sick from your greens, CR suggests buying whole-head lettuce instead of bagged varieties, and removing the outer layer of leaves where bacteria is most likely to be lurking. You could also opt for hydroponically-grown greens, which tend to be grown in cleaner environments, or cook your greens instead of eating them raw.

Cheeses and Deli Meat

Sausage, salami, ham, lunch meats, sliced cheeses, and soft cheeses, such as Brie and queso fresco, were the worst offenders in this category, on account of high instances of listeria. Listeria frustratingly thrives in cold temperatures (such as refrigerated deli cases) and can be easily spread through contact. In other words, if one variety of meat or cheese contains bacteria, it can quickly move to others. 

While the best advice to prevent yourself from getting ill from deli meat and cheese is to avoid it entirely, you can limit your exposure to harmful bacteria by cutting down how much deli meat you eat, as well as opting for pre-packaged deli meats and cheeses when you do buy them. According to research, these packaged products may be less likely to lead to illness from listeria infection. 

Ground Beef

Ground beef, which can sometimes carry E. coli and salmonella, has been the source of 20 recalls in recent years. Since deadly strains of E. coli can travel from lettuce fed to cows to the inside of a cow’s gut, it’s not that difficult for meat to be exposed to the harmful bacteria. And while whole cuts of meat can also be contaminated, ground beef is more likely to come in contact with bacteria because it can come from many animals and is more processed during grinding.

To keep bacteria from spreading from ground meat to other foods in your refrigerator or grocery cart, Consumer Reports suggests storing the package in a separate, disposable bag. You should also have separate cutting boards and knives for meat and produce when preparing food, and clean your hands thoroughly after handling raw meat.


Red, sweet, and white onions have all been the subject of two massive recalls in recent years, mostly for salmonella. The source of the bacteria was most likely contaminated irrigation water, in addition to unclean surfaces that the onions came in contact with. 

To avoid getting sick from onions, shop for ones that aren’t bruised or badly damaged, as bacteria can then penetrate the surface, don’t wash them until you’re ready to use ‘em, and opt to cook onions (which often kills bacteria) instead of consuming them raw. 

Chicken and Turkey

Ground and whole parts of these two types of poultry have been the subject of four recent recalls, thanks to salmonella. According to James E. Rogers, Ph.D., director of food safety research and testing at Consumer Reports, salmonella is particularly widespread in chicken and turkey, because defeathering the birds can spread the bacteria, and because of the additional handling required to cut them into parts.

In addition to the steps you can take to avoid illness from ground beef, make sure the meat is kept cold, thaw it in the fridge instead of on the counter, and cook chicken and turkey to 165 degrees. Also, don’t wash your chicken or turkey, as the unnecessary practice can actually spread bacteria instead of killing it.

Papayas, Peaches, and Melons

Pre-cut cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon; whole cantaloupes, papayas, and peaches were the subject of more than 20 recent recalls, mostly due to salmonella. For peaches, the bacteria seemingly spreads through contaminated soil from nearby animal feedlots, while cantaloupes and other melons are often exposed to harmful bacteria when the fruits are cut into cubes or balls before selling. For papayas, the risk seems most acute with fruits imported from Mexico, as the FDA often can’t easily inspect production facilities outside of the country. And since all three of these fruits are typically eaten raw, the risk of getting sick is even higher.

To avoid illness from these otherwise tasty foods, resist the urge to buy conveniently pre-cut fruit and purchase whole fruit instead. When choosing whole fruits, avoid bruised or damaged ones, and wash them before you intend to eat them.


Uncooked flour; cookie, brownie, cake, and pancake mixes; and pre-made cake batter can be contaminated with E. coli and salmonella. More specifically, since wheat grows in fields it can come in contact with wild animal droppings, as well as bacteria from nearby farms. While the milling process that turns grains into flour does not kill either pathogen, cooking with flour as part of normal food preparation will make it safe.

To avoid a flour-related illness, don’t eat raw homemade dough or batter. Additionally, keep flour and baking mixes that include flour away from all ready-to-eat foods, such as fresh produce, both when buying it in the supermarket and when storing it at home. This is because contaminated flour can easily fly around your kitchen and come in contact with other foods, surfaces, and cooking utensils.

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  1. CDC. Burden of Foodborne Illness: Overview. Accessed May 10, 2023.

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