17 Potentially Deadly Foods That Might Be in Your Kitchen
Your kitchen doesn’t seem like a threatening place, but some foods can kill you if you eat enough of them. Of course, eating most of these foods in lethal quantities would be tough, especially if you have some common sense. But if you’re curious, the following common foods can actually be deadly, especially one common fruit you may have in your fridge right now (on page 10).
Sweetening your tea or baked goods with honey? Then, you probably want to know what the FDA found in samples of honey sold across the United States. The Huffington Post reports the agency found the pesticide glyphosate in samples of honey from various locations in the country.
Glyphosate is the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide and is the most widely used weed killer in the world. But the honey samples tested by the FDA all contained residue of the chemical, and some even showed levels double the limit allowed in the European Union.
Another surprising food to contain some poisonous compounds? Rice. Bon Appétit reports rice contains arsenic, a toxin that can cause vomiting, abdominal pain, and vertigo. You’ll find the highest levels of arsenic in brown rice and the lowest in instant rice.
But the publication says you’d have a hard time eating enough rice to poison yourself. In fact, “you’d have to eat nearly 7 million servings of rice — in one sitting — to achieve death by rice.” However, the magazine says that should still be careful because “consistent exposure to even low doses of arsenic over time can lead to heart disease and bladder cancer.”
Did you put raw cashews on your grocery list? Think again. You really, really don’t want raw cashews. The New York Times reports cashew shells contain a toxin called urushiol. The compound, also found in the stems, roots, flowers, and berries of poison ivy, causes an infamously itchy reaction. So that’s why “cashews are sold shelled and processed (either roasted or, in the case of ‘raw’ cashews, steamed) at a temperature high enough to destroy urushiol.”
Next: Lima beans
4. Lima beans
Lima beans are another bean you should never eat raw. As Mental Floss reports, raw lima beans “contain a cyanide compound that is part of the plant’s defense mechanism. Cooking the beans uncovered and draining the cooking water lessens the risks.” When spider mites attack the plant, it releases the compound to attract predators of the mites and to warn nearby plants. As NPR notes, the U.S. “restricts commercially grown limas to varieties with very low levels of the compound, but all should be handled with care.”
The New York Times reports you should measure your nutmeg carefully the next time you make a pie or a batch of cookies. Consumed in excessive quantities, the spice can cause poisoning, thanks to myristicin, which comes from a family of compounds with psychoactive potential.
However, there’s no need to worry about your apple pie or your hot cocoa. The New York Times reports, “It takes a fair amount of nutmeg — 2 tablespoons or more — before people start exhibiting symptoms. These can include an out-of-body sensation, but the most common are intense nausea, dizziness, extreme dry mouth, and a lingering slowdown of normal brain function.”
Another surprising food to contain a toxic compound? Potatoes. They can produce solanine, a chemical that’s described as a “natural pesticide.” Bon Appétit learned the compound is especially concentrated in potatoes that have begun to turn green and in potatoes that have started to sprout. Solanine poisoning can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and even cardiac arrest.
However, the magazine reassures potato fans that “you’d have to eat an excessive amount of green potatoes to actually get solanine poisoning.” A 100-pound adult would need to eat a full pound of completely green potatoes in order to show symptoms.
The mushrooms you buy at the grocery store are safe to eat. But you need to stay extremely vigilant if you or a friend go foraging for wild mushrooms. Mother Nature Network reports several thousand fleshy species of mushrooms grow in North America, and only about 250 of those “are considered significantly poisonous.” But misidentifying a mushroom can have extremely dangerous consequences.
Slate reports the death cap mushroom — which likely kills and poisons more people each year than any other kind of mushroom — contains amatoxins that destroys the liver and can result in organ failure, coma, and death. The moral of the story? Make sure you know what kind of mushrooms you’re eating. Don’t take a chance.
Next: Kidney beans
8. Kidney beans
When you eat kidney beans, make sure you cook them thoroughly — especially if you’re using a slow cooker. Pennsylvania State University reports raw kidney beans contain relatively high concentrations of a toxic agent called phytohaemagglutinin.
While canned or cooked kidney beans are safe to eat, raw kidney beans are not. In fact, “As few as four or five kidney beans can bring on symptoms within one to three hours. Symptoms include extreme nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Some persons have been hospitalized, but recovery usually occurs about three to four hours after symptoms appear,” according to the report.
Next: Brazil nuts
9. Brazil nuts
According to Mental Floss, about half of the radiation we encounter in a year comes not from nuclear plants or X-rays, but from “background radiation” from items you have in your household. Brazil nuts top the site’s list of the most radioactive things in your house.
Brazil nuts grow on trees with a deep root system. The roots go deep into soil that’s high in natural radium, and the roots absorb the compound. Radium makes its way to the Brazil nuts — which can have radium levels 1,000 times higher than the levels in other foods.
Another surprising food that makes Mental Floss’ “most radioactive” list? Bananas. Like Brazil nuts, bananas get their radioactivity thanks to a compound absorbed by the tree’s roots. The fruit contains the isotope potassium-40, so every banana emits a small amount of radiation. As Mental Floss explains, “Bananas are such a common everyday source of radiation that there’s even an unofficial unit of measurement for radiation called the BED, or Banana Equivalent Dose, that’s used to illustrate foods’
Next: Apples and pears
11. Apples and pears
We aren’t out of the woods when it comes to fruits just yet. Bon Appétit reports apples and pears both have seeds that contain compounds your body can turn into lethal cyanide. Fortunately, it would take a lot of work to eat enough of either fruit to run into trouble.
“Apple seeds contain roughly 700 milligrams of hydrogen cyanide per kilogram, meaning that you’d need about 100 grams of the pips to take out a 150-pound person. That’s nearly a quarter pound of apple seeds, sans actual apple flesh,” Bon Appétit says. Because the typical apple contains only eight seeds, you’d need to eat at least 25 apple cores for the seeds to have lethal effects.
The elderberry might not be the most popular berry. Most of us bake with blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries far more often. And that might be a good thing. It turns out raw elderberries are actually poisonous, according to Cornell University. And the University of Maryland reports that “raw or unripe fruit, as well as the leaves, seeds, and bark, contain a chemical related to cyanide, which is poisonous.”
Bon Appétit reports rhubarb, a key ingredient in pies and cocktails, contains oxalic acid. Sound familiar? It’s a chemical that also appears in bleach and anti-rust products you might use around the house. Cooking rhubarb leaves doesn’t get rid of the acid. Plus, eating the leaves can cause burning sensations, nausea, vomiting, convulsions, and even death.
However, the magazine learned that a 130-pound woman would have to eat about 10 pounds of rhubarb leaves to show symptoms of oxalic acid poisoning. Unless you’re in the habit of baking giant desserts, your strawberry rhubarb pie is definitely safe.
Despite the commonly held belief that tomato leaves are poisonous, the New York Times reports there’s little evidence against adding them to your rotation of kitchen herbs. However, tomato leaves and green tomatoes — the kind many of us eat fried and pickled — do contain significant amounts of tomatine. Tomatine is an alkaloid The New York Times characterizes as “relatively benign,” at least in reasonable quantities.
Nonetheless, tomatine can be toxic if you eat enough green tomatoes. Curious what that would look like? “A toxic dose of tomatine for an adult human would appear to require at least a pound of tomato leaves.” That doesn’t sound like the kind of snack most of us would reach for.
Next: Apple and grape juice
15. Apple and grape juice
According to a Consumer Reports investigation, the apple and grape juice you buy from the grocery store probably contains arsenic. “In virtually every product tested, we found measurable amounts of total arsenic in its two forms. We found significant levels of inorganic arsenic, which is a carcinogen, in almost every product category, along with organic arsenic, which is less toxic but still of concern.”
And the organization points out a separate “analysis found that study participants who reported drinking apple or grape juice had total urinary arsenic levels that were on average nearly 20 percent higher than those who didn’t.”radiation levels.”
16. Cherries, apricots, plums, and peaches
Bon Appétit reports popular fruits, such as cherries, have pits that contain cyanogenic compounds. (That means chemicals your body can turn into cyanide.) Fortunately, the pits of these fruits are rarely poisonous if eaten whole. But you should never eat a cracked or broken pit. Bon Appétit explains, “A single cherry yields roughly 0.17 grams of lethal cyanide per gram of seed, so depending on the size of the kernel, ingesting just one or two freshly crushed pits can lead to death.”
Another surprising food that has urushiol in common with poison ivy? Mangoes. The New York Times reports the compound shows up “in the skin of mangoes (and the leaves and bark of the mango tree), as I discovered when I ate a mango still in the rind and ended up with a blistering rash on my mouth.”
And the University of Illinois reports, “Although some people can have allergies to the flesh of mangoes, for most it is the mango’s skin.” If you’re sensitive to urushiol, you should avoid picking mangoes — and have somebody who’s not allergic peel your mango for you.