Photograph by Miquel Gonzalez, laif/Redux
Here's a pearl of wisdom: Sniff after you shuck, and swallow only when you're certain. Of the riskiest foods regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, raw oysters rank high for their outbreak-causing potential. The two pathogens wreaking the most havoc are Norovirus (which can cause gastroenteritis) and Vibrio, a bacterium related to cholera that can cause fever, septic shock, blistering skin lesions, and even fatal septicemia.
Photograph by Marco Moretti, Anzenberger/Redux
With the common name "vegetable brain" and a pedigree to boot—this lychee relative is the national fruit of Jamaica—you'd think ackee would be an all-around crowd-pleaser. But the pear-shaped pods of this West African tree can deliver a deadly bite if eaten prior to ripening. It's a beachside buzz kill to come down with Jamaican vomiting sickness and seizures; death, a very real risk, is the ultimate vacation wrecker. The solution: Patience. To enjoy this delicious and nutritious produce, it's essential to wait until the fruit turns bright red and its spongy flesh peels away from the toxic black seeds within. Then, boil it up, season appropriately, and serve with saltfish. Voila: It's Jamaica's national dish.
Photograph by tomcensani, flickr
Suction cups are not typically on the American menu, but in Korea, the consumption of live baby octopus tentacles is considered a hoe (raw dish) delicacy. Although removed from the body, sliced into bite-size bits and dressed with sesame oil and sesame seeds, the squirming tentacles have a way of sticking around—in your throat—thanks to still-active suction cups, which present a choking hazard. The safest solution is to chew it 100 times before swallowing. And don’t talk with your mouth full.
Photograph by Justin Guariglia, National Geographic
Pollution caused by industrial waste gave rise to the methylmercury-related illnesses, including development deficits in children, that have placed tuna—tuna steaks and canned tuna—on many no-no lists. But pathogens such as scombrotoxin, brought on by improper handling of fresh fish, sicken hundreds of people each year. Symptoms run the gamut from headaches to diarrhea and even loss of vision. The safest solution: Keep your fish cool and only eat at reputable restaurants.
Photograph by Darlyne A. Murawski, National Geographic
Truffle hunting in Tuscany sounds like an idyllic way to spend a holiday. But beware: While there's good fungus among us, the tasty porcini has some poisonous cousins. Even when their names spell certain doom—death cap, destroying angels, among them—look-alike mushrooms can create a toxic menace. Is that a morel you're eating or a highly poisonous Gyromitra? A delicious chanterelle or an evil jack o'lantern (pictured here)? The poisonous galerina or the hallucinogenic psilocybe? You'd better know exactly what you're looking for, because many mushrooms are decidedly not magical.
Photograph by Tony McNicol, Alamy
Those apocryphal tales about the hypertoxic blowfish prized by Japanese gastronomes? Terrifyingly true. Tetrodotoxin is the potent poison that can turn fugu into a final meal. Fortunately, chefs train for years to master the art of filleting this fish while avoiding the ovaries, liver, and intestines, which contain a toxin so lethal that a tiny drop can kill. Still, dozens of daredevil diners in Japan head to the hospital each year with acute respiratory failure brought on by this lethal puffer fish. The taste? After a subtly astringent numbing of the tongue, it tastes pretty much like flounder and is easily overpowered by any sauce.
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