Attorney Bill Marler has spent the last two decades working on food-poisoning lawsuits. One of the most well-known food safety lawyers in the United States, Marler is hyper-attuned to the potential dangers of different foods—and his knowledge has permanently changed his eating habits. The lawyer, who is currently litigating against Chipotle and has won more than $600 million for victims of food poisoning, says there are some foods he just won’t eat.
In an interview with Bottom Line Health, Marler listed six foods he avoids at all costs: Unpasteurized milk and juices, raw sprouts, rare meat, pre-washed fruits and veggies, undercooked eggs, and raw shellfish are all too risky to consume, according to Marler. He claims that these foods have been known to carry E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, and other dangerous bacteria, and that several have been responsible for major outbreaks over the last 30 years.
Marler said that, as recently as 2014, Salmonella from raw bean sprouts sent 19 people to the hospital. If that doesn’t sound like a huge number, he also notes that a 2010 Salmonella outbreak from raw or undercooked eggs affected around 2000 people. One of his earliest cases, meanwhile, centered on an E. coli outbreak from unpasteurized Odwalla apple juice. Marler says consumers should not assume that foods are safe just because they are packaged or pre-washed.
Raw oysters, meanwhile, are basically sponges for bacteria, according to Marler. “Oysters are filter feeders, so they pick up everything that’s in the water,” he told Bottom Line Health. “If there’s bacteria in the water it’ll get into their system, and if you eat it you could have trouble. I’ve seen a lot more of that over the last five years than I saw in the last 20 years. It’s simply not worth the risk.” Marler believes that climate change may be partially to blame for the increase in shellfish-based food poisonings. He explains that as water heats up, more bacteria begins to grow, in turn increasing the odds that shellfish will pick up dangerous bacteria.
There is one food often considered “dangerous” that Marler will happily consume, however. According to Marler, sushi is usually perfectly safe to eat. Sushi chefs, he explains, are well aware of the dangers posed by eating raw fish and make sure to handle fish carefully. As long as you’re purchasing sushi at a restaurant and not a grocery store, Marler says, it’s OK to eat: “If you’re going to eat sushi, spend the money and eat at a good sushi restaurant.”
Of course, many of us might not be ready to give up raw oysters or medium rare burgers despite the risks involved. Though Marler himself won’t eat the foods listed above, it is important to note that he’s being particularly cautious. A good rule of thumb, however, is to make sure you know where your food is coming from—and that you trust its source.