5 Surprising Foods to Watch Out For  |  MariaShriver.com

Michael Green

July 27, 2015

You probably know by now to take care when preparing raw poultry (you don’t want to spread salmonella round), or to avoid leaving the potato salad out in the hot sun. But you may not know that some foods may contain hidden health threats, including foods with cancer-causing chemicals or residues of risky animal drugs.

[Related: 4 Toxic Things Most of Us Use Every Day]

To help guide your shopping, we put together this surprising list of foods you need to know about:

1. Black licorice: Recent findings by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) show that many brands of black licorice contain high levels of lead, a chemical that can cause serious reproductive health problems and lifelong learning deficits. Fortunately, many companies have agreed to clean up their candy, so check the CEH website before you buy.

2. Rice: It’s hard to believe that a grain consumed widely worldwide could be a health concern, but some rice is grown in fields that contain residues from arsenic-based pesticides that were used decades ago. It turns out that rice plants are especially proficient at taking up this arsenic from the soil, so some rice may have high levels of the cancer-causing chemical. To minimize your risk, rotate rice consumption with other grains, and when cooking rice, rinse it first and try cooking it like pasta, draining the excess water when the rice is done.

[Read: 3 Reasons to Eat Clean & Green + Smoothie & Snack Recipes]

3. Strawberries: Pesticides used as soil fumigants are widely used by strawberry growers, but these chemicals are among the most toxic farm poisons known. Fumigants are primarily an air pollution threat, posing health risks to farm workers and rural communities, but as consumers we can vote with our dollars for safer food and farms. Look for organic strawberries which by law are grown without synthetic pesticides.

4. Candied ginger: Candied ginger used for baking and some ginger candy treats may contain high levels of lead, an especially troubling finding, given that many pregnant women use ginger as a treatment for nausea. Some companies have addressed the problem, but many have not, so check the list when you’re looking for a ginger treat.

[Read Maria Shriver’s latest “I’ve Been Thinking” essay]

5. Meat: In the U.S., many beef and pork producers use growth-enhancing drugs called beta-agonists, despite warnings that they can cause animal suffering and may pose risks to people who eat meat. The drugs are banned in Europe and China, but estimates suggest up to 80% of U.S. cattle are fed the drugs, while Consumer Reports testing found residues of the drugs in 20% of pork samples. To avoid products made with the drugs, buy only organic beef and pork, or look for products from companies that have agreed not to use them.