Washington – Danger could be hiding in your dinner salad.

Food most people consider healthy, such as raw sprouts, salad greens, cooked fruit and rice, can pose serious health risks if they are improperly prepared and stored.

Sprouts are considered risky because they grow in a bacteria-friendly moist environment. Outbreaks have involved raw alfalfa and mixed sprouts that were contaminated with salmonella, which can lead to fever, cramps, diarrhea and even death, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Thorough cooking significantly reduces health risks for sprouts, as well as other foods.

Certain people are at greater risk, including young children, the elderly, the immune-compromised and pregnant women, according to Sam Beattie, a food safety extension specialist at Iowa State University.

The bacteria campylobacter, salmonella and E. coli, as well as Norwalk and Norwalk-like viruses, cause the most commonly recognized food-borne infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC is working on analyses to estimate the number of illnesses each year in the United States from various foods. Initial reports are expected in 2008.

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