Your Food Is Trying To Kill You

It's a dangerous world out there, and in the hopes of warning you of potentially deadly food hazards, we've put together a compilation of some of the edible terrors lying in wait. Foods with a high risk of fatality can be found right in your pantry, some are served in sushi restaurants, while others can be found in Jamaica (the ackee fruit) or even the Arctic (polar bear liver). Because who doesn't love a good dose of items to fear every now and again? On with the paranoia!

Household Dangers

Apple Seeds

kill-appleIn summer camp, I was taught to eat my apple cores. I also believe I was taught how to identify animal tracks and scat, but only the apple core thing stuck with me. We ate them to reduce our waste while on hikes or camping trips, and I continue to eat them to this day. Partly it's out of laziness — getting to the trash can is quite a journey some days. It's also because I was told at an early age that apple seeds contained cyanide.

It's true. Apple seeds (and cherry, peach, and apricot pits) contain amygdalin, a cyanide and sugar compound that turns into hydrogen cyanide when metabolized. If you swallow seeds whole, there's no need to worry: the tough outer shell keeps the poison contained within. To release the cyanide, the seeds need to be pulverized or chewed, but since there's such a small amount per seed, to approach a lethal dose you'd need piles and piles of them. But still, come the day when an evil villain spikes my drink with cyanide, I like to think I'll have at least a slight edge.


kill-rhubarbThere's a reason rhubarb pie isn't preceded with a lovely salad of rhubarb leaves. Rhubarb leaves contain poisonous substances including the potentially lethal oxalic acid. Eaten in small doses, the leaves won't harm you badly, but if you happen to consume eleven pounds of leaves, then look out, you're in for a spot of dying. A helpful hint to future farmers' market murderers: If you cook the leaves with soda (as in baking soda, I'm assuming, rather than, say, Diet Coke) they become more lethal. Thanks, internet!


kill-waterIn college, future greek members and I were made to watch an anti-hazing film that featured the case of a pledge who had died from "water intoxication." His frat brothers, respecting the fact that he was dry-pledging (not drinking alcohol), chose to haze him by forcing him to consume glass after glass of water. It was all in good fun, but then the boy collapsed and never got up again. Us to-be greeks left and probably promptly slammed down a few beers — but we definitely weren't going to be drinking water.

Water intoxication is mostly seen in extreme athletes and occurs when they consume so much water that sodium levels drop to dangerous low, which then results in blood plasma levels rising and then...a bunch more medical mumbo-jumbo... essentially you drown on the inside. A recent death-by-water case involved a woman who took part in a “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” water-drinking contest in 2007. Fun fact: Andy Warhol technically died of water intoxication when overloaded him with fluids during a gallbladder surgery.


kill-milkThere haven't been many cases of milk-related deaths. Raw milk, of course, has its enemies. But in terms of straight-up milk consumption leading to death, I found only one article in The New York Times, from August 1st, 1890. Mary Goldsmith of Plainfield, New Jersey died of "a too free drinking of milk." She was "very fond of the fresh milk, and drank it warm as it came from the cows morning and evening." It was estimated that she drank around three or four gallons a day. It was later found that a fatty formation had formed around the heart, thereby impairing it from beating. So, can milk kill? Answer: Well, the fat in it sure can.


kill-coffeeThis one is a little extreme. In order to die from drinking coffee you would have to drink 80 to 100 cups of coffee in quick succession. That's about six gallons of coffee, which equals around ten to thirteen grams of pure caffeine. So if you want to commit suicide but want to be really, really awake when you die...I think this could be your thing.


kill-potatoesAs a good quarter Irish girl, I like my potatoes. But I like them cooked, preferably with a good quantity of butter. This a good thing, and not just from a flavor standpoint. A raw potato (if left to turn green) along with its stems and leaves, contain a poison: a glycoalkaloid toxin. If consumed in hefty quantities, the toxin will cause a person to feel weak and confused and then fall into a coma, proceeded with a nasty case of death. So, the way I see it, making french fries saves lives.

Extreme Eaters Beware

Sannakji (Live Baby Octopus)

kill-baby-octopusIf you're the type who likes their food motionless and very dead, then this may not be your dish. Koreans prepare this dish of small octopi by cutting the live cephalopod into small pieces and then immediately serve the still-squirming, lightly-seasoned chunks to the diners. Icky to some, yes, but where's the danger? The suction cups on the arms (or legs, depending on your outlook on life) are still active when eaten, so it's possible for them to stick to the diner's mouth or throat and choke them. How to deter this danger? Chew. Chew hard.


kill-fuguThe classic danger food. If prepared incorrectly, fugu, otherwise known as blowfish, is lethal. Straight up deadly. The fish contains a poison, called tetrodotoxin, in its organs (especially the liver) and in its skin that causes paralysis, which eventually leads to asphyxiation.

There is no known antidote, so make sure your fugu chef knows what he’s doing and has the fugu-serving license to prove it. Prepared most popularly as sashimi, the fish resembles fluke and is mild except for the tingly sensation experienced by the diner due to a small amount of poison still present in the meat. These days, though, most fugu is toxin-free due to farming. But the real stuff is still out there.

Deep-fried Bacon


Photo: Laurence Sterling

Ok, this isn't going to kill you. But it will probably shave off a good few days of life. My family cooked this batch up not to long ago and is still standing.


kill-ackeeIf you’ve ever been to Jamaica, you’ll have seen this fruit on the menu. Usually found in the nation dish, Ackee and Saltfish, it's a staple to the Jamaican way of life along with other plant-type substances… I’m talking about beans and plantains of course. But when consumed before it's fully ripe, the fruit results in something other than good vibes. Ackee contains a chemical that suppresses the body’s ability to release an extra supply of glucose. Without this extra glucose, the blood sugar level plunges to a dangerous level and can result in death. In fact, enough people have died from eating unripened ackee that it is illegal to bring the raw fruit into the U.S.

Suicidal Eaters, Go Ahead


kill-platypus1One of the few poisonous mammals, platypus hold a venom in glands in their upper thighs that they can secret out of spurs on their hind legs. While it is not lethal, contact with the venom (including its ingestion) is extremely painful and its effects can last for weeks. Also, the pain caused by the toxin doesn't respond to morphine. So the next time you're salivating over that tasty looking duck-beaver, make sure you don't go for the thighs. I hear the beak's great to gnaw on after a meal.

Polar Bear Liver

kill-polaeIf you were thinking that a lovely chunk of polar bear liver would really shake things up at dinner, you're right — but perhaps not in the way you were hoping. Dangerously high in vitamin A, the consumption of polar bear liver will result in Hypervitaminosis A, which manifests as nausea, headaches, dizziness, blurred vision and loss of muscular coordination. Gerrit de Veer, a Dutch carpenter who was on Willem Barentsz' third voyage in search of the Northwest Passage in 1597, found this out the hard way when he and his men ate some of the awful offal and nearly died.

Giant Namibian Bullfrog


Frogs legs may be a French specialty and can be delicious in an amphibian kind of way, but the legs just don't cut it if you're Namibian. They eat the entire frog and in doing so risk their lives for a tasty froggy treat. The skin of these bullfrogs contains a poison that can cause burning inflammation of the urethra, kidney failure, and death. But post-froggy consumption survival is possible by lining the cooking pot with wood from the Omuhongo tree, which absorbs the poison. Also, make sure you're eating your frog until "after the third rain," which is when it starts croaking. Or, of course, you could just not eat the frog. But who can ignore those nagging bullfrog cravings?

Justine Sterling

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Comment Feed

  1. Diana

    The fat in milk isn't what kills you. Ask the cult-like (I only say cult-like because you need a pretty hardcore disregard of mainstream "wisdom" to stick to this) band of dieters in Poland on Dr. Kwasniewski's Optimal Diet, who consume ridiculous amounts of fat and saturated fat (heavy cream, lard, etc), and are in perfect health, much healthier than your average American.

    There is about 13 grams of sugar in each cup of milk though. So that's 208 grams of sugar per gallon and 624-832 grams of sugar this lady ingested per day. That's like 11 Cinnabon buns worth of sugar /every day/.

    Just providing another perspective, is all.

  2. Stephanie

    i love this post! i remember reading a while ago i think in the magazine section of the nytimes about someone getting cancer from eating too much microwave popcorn. the guy ate maybe 5 bags a day and the radiation from the microwave gave him some rare form of cancer. does anyone else remember this?

  3. Thank you for the photo credit.

  4. Tori

    Popcorn worker's lung - it's something to do with the vapors from the butter flavor and usually only people who work in microwave popcorn factories get it, but that guy had popcorn everyday and breathed in the butter smell when he opened the bags.

  5. Rob

    No mention of KFC?

  6. KFC is a whoooooole different post.....mostly involving a discussion of how it's not chicken, it's monster. Kentucky Fried Monster.

  7. Rob

    I hear they are running a promotion whereby you get a free beak with every bucket.

  8. Jy

    This is an excellent post. And as I child I definitely used to sneak raw potatoes from my mothers pantry. I guess I was lucky they had not turned green yet, because I ate them in generous quantities...

  9. Hannah

    :D very funny & fascinating.

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