17 of the most dangerous foods in the world

  • From the poisonous to the hygienically unsafe, some foods could kill you — or at least make you very ill.

  • Sannakji is a Korean octopus dish served while it's still alive so it can suction to your throat.

  • Cherry pits and other fruit stones contain small amounts of cyanide.

When it comes to the world's most dangerous foods, you probably think of exotic delicacies that most people will never come in contact with. While a Korean octopus that fights back when you swallow it may fit that criteria, some of the worst food dangers are probably in your fridge or pantry right now.

From poisonous produce to hygienically unsafe dishes, we rounded up the 17 most dangerous foods in the world with some help from Dr. Keith Kantor, nutritionist and CEO of the Nutritional Addiction Mitigation Eating and Drinking program.

Keep scrolling at your own risk.

Don't chew on cherry seeds or pits for too long.

cherry in hand on a blue background
Cherry seeds and pits are poisonous! Who knew?ECOSY/Shutterstock

"Spit out your cherry seeds because they contain the poisonous compound hydrogen cyanide," Dr. Kantor said.

That goes for other stone fruits like peaches, plums, and apricots ... but don't worry about it too much. Hydrogen cyanide is a poison, yes, but you'd have to eat a ton of cherry seeds before it would kill you. The limit for a 150-pound human is 703 milligrams of hydrogen cyanide per day, according to the National Institute of Health, which is safely hundreds of cherry seeds.

Fugu (pufferfish) is highly restricted in the US.

Fugu can be deadly.KPG-Payless/Shutterstock

Fugu (or pufferfish) is one of the most poisonous foods in the world. Importation to the US is heavily restricted, and only one supplier has been approved by the FDA.

That's because, unless it's cooked exactly right, the puffer fish is 1,200 times more deadly than cyanide, according to National Geographic. It makes those cherry pits look like a walk in the park.

Casu Marzu, a cheese fermented by maggots, isn't for the faint of heart — or stomach.

Casu Marzu maggot cheese
Casu Marzu.Gengis90/Shutterstock

Casu Marzu is a traditional Sardinian cheese that's extra-fermented by live maggots that partially decompose the cheese. Not feeling this one? Neither is the US government. The cheese is banned for sanitary/hygienic reasons.

Believe it or not, hot dogs can be deadly.

coney island nathans hot dog eating contest
Be sure to chew slowly.Mario Tama/Getty Images

Pushing aside the dubious ingredients found inside some brands of hot dogs, hot dogs are notorious in many hospitals as one of the top choking hazards in the kitchen. They're the No. 1 cause of choking-related injuries in children under 3, according to John Hopkins Medicine. So be sure to chew slowly!

The humid conditions needed for alfalfa sprouts to grow are also perfect for germs to grow.

Alfalfa sprouts
Raw sprouts of any kind are particularly dangerous for the elderly, pregnant women, and young children.Ildi Papp/Shutterstock

Alfalfa sprouts, particularly raw, are an "ideal" environment for bacteria growth. Numerous foodborne illness outbreaks in recent decades have been associated with the consumption of sprouts, including Salmonella and E. coli, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sannakji can fight back after you eat it.

Sannakji, Octopus on a bamboo plate
You do not want to get one of these suckers stuck in your throat.mnimage/Shutterstock

Sannakji is a raw octopus dish meant to be eaten while it's still squirming. The danger here is that despite the sushi chef killing the octopus before serving it, nerve activity allows it to wriggle still, meaning that their suction cups could attach to your throat as you swallow. According to Food & Wine, six people die every year on average from choking on it.

Shellfish can absorb dangerous bacteria from the sea.

Full frame of different types of sea food
Undercooked shellfish is a serious problem.Eduardo Frederiksen/Shutterstock

"Undercooked or raw shellfish is particularly dangerous because they can absorb microbes/ harmful bacteria from the sea," Dr. Kantor said. "They should always be cooked. Beware especially of raw oysters."

Plus, shellfish is the most common (and one of the deadliest) food allergies, so extra caution is urged.

Unpasteurized cheese has been banned in the US because of the potential dangers.

Unpasteurized cheese
Luckily, unpasteurized cheese is illegal in America.Picturepartners/Shutterstock

You'll never be able to eat real Camembert cheese in America. Why? Because it's made from unpasteurized, "raw" milk, according to the FDA, which can contain all manner of harmful pathogens and bacteria that can spread dangerous foodborne illnesses. Raw milk cheese that has not been aged for at least 60 days is banned in America, whether imported or made locally.

Bagels are more hazardous than you might have realized.

bagel and coffee
Cutting a bagel safely can be tricky business.Ms. Trouble Maker/Shutterstock

Surprised by this one? Bagels are obviously not poisonous, but the starchy breakfast food — just like avocados — is the cause of one of the most common knife injuries in the kitchen. In 2011, an estimated 2,000 Americans were sent to the ER with bagel-related injuries, according to the US Product Safety Commission.

Green potatoes could be dangerous if consumed in large quantities.

Green Potatoes
Please wait until your potato ripens!Cyril Lutz/Shutterstock

The validity of the claim that unripened "green" potatoes are poisonous has been debated for some time. It is known, however, that the green tubers or new sprouts of the potato plant contain the dangerous toxin known as solanine and can cause serious illness if consumed in large quantities, according to the United States National Library of Medicine.

Unripe ackee fruit can cause vomiting — or even death — after they're consumed.

A pile of raw ackees in their pods
Ackee not only looks strange but it's banned in America.Sevenstock Studio/Shutterstock

The ackee is a popular Jamaican fruit that is not allowed to enter the United States because it's highly dangerous. When the fruit turns red, it's ripe. But when it's yellow, it's teeming with toxic levels of hypoglycin A, which, when consumed, could result in vomiting, hypoglycemia, or even death. The black seeds on the other hand are always poisonous.

Green almonds or cashews are a no-no.

Green almonds
Raw almonds.mizy/Shutterstock

"Bitter almonds in their most raw form are full of cyanide," Dr. Kantor said. "They need to go through a full heat treatment to remove toxins."

Thankfully, that means the bag of almonds or can of cashews you buy at the store is safe. But don't worry, you'd have to eat 1,150 kernels to get poisoned, according to the CDC.

Raw kidney beans contain a toxic agent.

Kidney Beans
Cooked red kidney beans.Palokha Tetiana/Shutterstock

You may love to include kidney beans in stews and chilis, but you should never eat them raw. Raw kidney beans contain a toxic agent known as phytohaemagglutinin. As many as a handful of beans could bring on symptoms like vomiting and headaches. The toxin is significantly diminished when the beans are cooked, however.

Hákarl, or fermented shark, is a delicacy that might be the last thing you ever eat if you're not careful.

Hákarl, fermented shark food.
Hákarl is an Icelandic dish.Irina Bortmann/Shutterstock

This traditional Icelandic delicacy is a must-try dish from the small Nordic Island. Although it's one of its national foods, approach at your own risk: Raw shark meat is toxic to humans because the Greenland sharks' bodies contain high levels of urea and trimethylamine oxide. Thus, they are cured and hung to dry or even buried in dirt for three to five months, according to Seabourn Current.

Just a few bites of the fresh, uncured meat can give you the sensation of feeling drunk. In large enough quantities, people can experience intestinal issues, neurological distress, convulsions, or even death, according to the Canada Institute of Food Safety.

Rhubarb is a bright vegetable with a dark side.

Chopped fresh rhubarb on dark stone background.
Be careful not to cook or bake rhubarb leaves or face the life-threatening consequences.KarepaStock/Shutterstock

You can find this bright, pink vegetable in pies and jams, but its leaves should not be used for cooking or baking, because they are poisonous — they contain oxalic acid. Eating too much oxalic acid can be fatal, though you would have to consume about 11 pounds of the rhubarb leaves to actually die from it.

Small amounts in improperly prepared foods will simply cause symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, eye pain, red urine, or more serious kidney-related issues such as kidney stones, or even kidney failure, according to the Mount Sinai Health System.

Cassava must be properly cooked, or you're in danger of being poisoned.

Organic raw Cassava tuber on wicker tray and palm leaves.
Whether you try sweet cassava or bitter cassava, the staple food isn't safe to consume in its entirety.Lazhko Svetlana/Shutterstock

You may recognize cassava as the tropical root crop often used to make foods like tapioca pudding. Currently, it is a staple food for over 800 million people. But its leaves and roots can produce cyanide, which may lead to acute toxicity or even death, according to the National Library of Medicine. The main way to prevent this is properly cooking it before storing, eating, or serving the sweet or bitter types of cassava.

Elderberries are deceptively innocent-looking.

Closeup view of wet elderberries bunches over green leaves.
Elderberries definitely don't look life-threatening, but don't judge this book by its cover.Khorzhevska/Shutterstock

Native to Canada, elderberries look delicious and are safe to eat when ripe and properly cooked, so they are commonly used in everything from supplements, wines and teas, to jams and pies.

However, the leaves, twigs, and seeds contain potentially fatal levels of a cyanogenic glycoside called sambunigrin. If the elderberries aren't fully ripe or strained properly, eating them can cause gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting, severe diarrhea, and nausea.

Consuming them in larger quantities can cause serious illness or seizures. But to be in danger of falling into a coma or potentially facing death, you would have to drink the equivalent of up to five glasses, according to the Chromatin Health Network.

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