Bill Marler, arguably one of the most famous food safety lawyers in the US, has sparked an online debate after listing six commonly eaten foods that he now refuses to eat.
As the managing partner of Marler Clark, a Seattle based law firm that specialises in foodborne illness cases, Marler is no stranger to the dangers of food poisoning. Over the past 20 years, he has worked on countless prominent cases, including the 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak that sickened hundreds and killed four children. More recently, his law firm has been involved in the Costco and Chipotle cases, both of which have made global headlines.
In his recent article published in Bottom Line Health, Marler lists unpasteurised or ‘raw’ milk; meat that isn’t well-done; raw sprouts; pre-washed or pre-cut fruits and vegetable; raw oysters and shellfish; and raw or undercooked eggs.
Marler avoids these six foods because he says the risk of getting sick from them is much too high. In an interview published in the Sydney Morning Herald, he explains that there are many things about the US food system that the general public would find ‘nonsensical’.
“This list is based on more than 20 years of experience that has taught me that these are the food items that are, from my perspective, the ones that have caused more issues, and, especially in a restaurant setting, where you're not controlling the handling of your food, are best left alone,” he said.
Why These 6 Foods?
After working for so long in an industry that deals with all different types of food poisoning outbreaks, it’s understandable that Marler is careful about what he eats. Foodborne illnesses can be caused by any number of things and affect millions of people around the world every year. However, when you examine the most common causes a pattern does emerge.
Salmonella, norovirus, E. coli and listeria are some of the more common food contaminants linked to notorious food poisoning outbreaks. The reason that these six foods have made Marler’s list to avoid is that he says they carry a higher risk of being tainted by the time you eat them.
The soil that raw sprouts are grown in often contains chemical pesticides and manure, so if they’re not thoroughly and completely washed, they can still harbour enough harmful contaminants to make you sick.
Unpasteurised milk and other dairy products are not heated to the temperature necessary to make sure that the bacteria levels are brought down to a safe level. This makes them dangerous to consume, particularly for people with a weakened immune system.
Raw oysters and shellfish have been linked to more and more food poisoning outbreaks of late, says Marler, which he credits to rising water temperatures, which cause higher bacterial growth.
Pre-washed or pre-cut fruits and vegetables made the list because he says that the more foods are handled or processed, the more chances they have to become contaminated.
Although Marler believes that the number of food poisoning cases caused by raw or undercooked meat and eggs has dropped, he still refuses to eat them. Instead, he says that by ensuring that they are completed cooked, it’s less likely that any bacteria that did manage to reach the centre of the food will survive and be eaten.
Which So-Called ‘Dangerous’ Food Does He Not Avoid?
Despite the fact that Marler refuses to eat these six popular foods, he’s quite happy to eat sushi. This is because there haven’t been many outbreaks linked to sushi, most likely because of the careful way that it’s handled and prepared.
He doesn’t eat sushi from just anywhere though, and says, “If you’re going to eat sushi, spend the money and eat at a good sushi restaurant.”