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Risky Holiday Foods

Posted in Food Safety on November 20, 2018

Food replenishes the body.  It is how we live.  We also eat for pleasure, so it is often how we thrive as well.  As we approach this holiday season, indulgence is a vice we all struggle with.  It is the holidays.  That second helping of your favorite food beckons from the kitchen.  Why not go for thirds or fourths?  Depending on the food, you might want to reconsider – or avoid it all together. Here are some Risky Holiday Foods to keep an eye out for.

Combing through the interwebs, I have compiled a list (albeit not comprehensive) of some foods you should limit and some you should just avoid.  At MakeFoodSafe we want to help you make the best food decisions for you and your family.

Foods to Limit

I have found a selection of foods that it is a good idea to limit.  In some cases you only need to worry about a part of the food (usually something you shouldn’t be eating anyway – who actually eats seeds inside a fruit), while others you are safe if you just eat a moderate amount.

Cashew Nuts

Cashew nuts are actually seeds.  According to you have been misled all your life if you have been calling them nuts.  I debated on whether to include this food in the “avoid” category, but normal handling and consumption shouldn’t be a problem.

What makes this holiday and year-round food so harmful?  The shells.  They are deadly, by the way.  They have a coating of anacardic acid that can burn your skin if handled incorrectly and can also cause a terrible upset stomach.  Cashews are not consumed raw.  They must be cooked or steamed before you eat them.  When raw, they contain a chemical called urushiol.  Urushiol is also found in poison ivy.  Consumption of large amounts of it can be fatal.  If you happen to see cashews growing in the wild, don’t pick and eat them.  It is best to get them from the store.


This nut (yes this one is actually a nut in case you were wondering) does pack a bunch of health benefits, but sadly are also full of poison.  Bitter almonds, in the raw state contain cyanide.  Quite a lot of it, in fact.  To remove the toxins, they must undergo a specialized heat treatment.  This isn’t something you can do in your own oven.  Opt for the store-bought version of these as well.


Rhurbarb is a beautiful vegetable (don’t hold me to that one, I am still stuck on cashews being seeds), that is great in crumbles and cobblers and often paired with strawberry.  You might even find it occasionally pickled.  The stems are edible, but the leaves of the plant are lethal.  The leaves contain a chemical called oxalic acid.  This acid produces a burning in the mouth and throat resulting in breathing difficulties, coma, or even death.  If it is so deadly, you may wonder why it is on the “limit” category.  You would need to consume around 5 kg (or just over 11 pounds) for it to kill you.  That is a lot of pie!

Kidney Beans

Kidney beans are perfectly safe.  When fully cooked.  Though consuming even a few undercooked beans can elicit nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.  This is due to high levels of phytohemagglutinin found in them.  The FDA advises boiling kidney beans for 30 minutes to completely break down the toxin.  Canned kidney beans are pre-cooked and safe to eat right out of the can.  If you are concerned about undercooking, try using canned kidney beans instead.


Potatoes?  Not potatoes!  Actually, it is just the green parts that you need to worry about.  The green parts contain a chemical called solanine.  This can cause serious illness if you eat too much of it.  The sprouts, stem, and leave contain glycoalkaloids.  These are harmful as well.  You just need to pick your potatoes wisely for a worry-free side dish.


Yes.  Tomatoes, too.  The fruit is safe (yes fruit – don’t get me started), but the leaves contain the harmful glycoalkaloids.  You will be fine consuming tomatoes as long as you steer clear of the leaves and stems.


A shocking 1 % of the United States population has a peanut allergy.  While that doesn’t seem like a lot, it is very significant.  It is one of the most common kinds of allergies in the country.  When seriously allergic, ingesting peanut in any form -even inhaled peanut proteins in the air, can make you very sick.  If you are allergic, common sense tells you to avoid it.  If you are not allergic, consume responsibly to keep others from falling ill (or worse) when consuming them.


Nutmeg is that spice reminiscent of Christmas.  It adds delicate flavor to dishes such as rice pudding, bechamel, and custards.  It is also a hallucinogen if eaten in large enough quantities.  In large does it can cause nausea, convulsions, palpations, visual distortions, and a sense of paranoia.  It only takes 2 to 3 teaspoons to turn that eggnog into a groovy party.

Foods to Avoid Altogether

The following foods are good to avoid all together.  There are serious safety concerns with consumption of some holiday favorites this time of year and throughout the year.

Tiger Meat

Some call it tiger meat.  Others call it cannibal sandwich.  If you want to get fancy, you can call it steak tartar.  However you call it, eating raw meat is dangerous.  As a holiday hors d’oeuvre it is often prepared by mixing raw ground beef and raw eggs with other seasonings and served on a cracker.  Excuse me while I get that thought out of my head.  Thankfully, this practice is waning, but many communities still keep this tradition alive while risking potentially fatal illness on their selves.

Ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 ⁰F.  Period.  Even grinding your own cuts of beef do not make it safe for raw consumption.  Consumption of raw eggs is also a no-go.  Just avoid this “tiger meat” all together.  How about starting a new tiger burger tradition instead?


Elderberries have been used in medicine and homeopathic remedies to treat anything from topical skin wounds to colds.  The leaves, twigs, and seeds of the elderberry fruit contain a cyanide-like chemical.  When ingested it can cause nausea and severe illness.  Some varieties cause illness such as diarrhea and seizures if consumed unripe or not cooked properly.  Avoid elderberries or elderberry products unless you are absolutely sure they were treated properly.

Cherry Stones

Cherry stones.  Or the stone of any other stone fruit for that matter – including apricot, plum, and peach.  The pit or stone contains hydrogen cyanide.  This is so toxic that 0.1 grams can kill a 150-pound person.  A cherry pit contains 0.17 grams of cyanide.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Ingesting just one or two stones could be lethal.  Watch for cherry seeds.  Always remove them. Avoid the pits of other stone fruits as well.  It just isn’t worth the risk.

Keep Food Safe

This time of year the temperatures drop, we come in contact with more people, and we are more prone to illness.  We recommend not to add to that risk by consuming risky holiday foods. Stay safe, and Happy Holidays!

By: Heather Van Tassell, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)