Ever turn down a drink at a bar and hear someone refute, “One shot won’t kill you!”? Well, that’s not entirely true. It can-and for 18-year-old Gaby Scanlon (now 20), it almost did at Oscar’s Wine Bar and Bistro in Lancaster, England, The Guardian reports. Scanlon had her stomach removed after drinking a smoking liquid nitrogen shot called the Nitro-Jagermeister, given to her for free by an employee on her birthday. Almost immediately after taking the shot, smoke started coming out of her nose and mouth, her stomach "expanded," and she became violently ill. Scanlon was rushed to an infirmary for surgery to remove her stomach and small bowel after the liquid nitrogen had perforated her stomach and destroyed the internal tissue. As for Oscar’s Wine Bar and Bistro, they’ve been fined £100,000 (about $155,000) after “pleading guilty to one count of failing in the duty of an employer to ensure the safety of persons not in its employment, admitting it failed to ensure the shot-sized cocktail was safe for consumption.”
This may be an extreme case, but you should know that foods—natural foods, not foods soaked in chemicals—have the potential to kill you, too. Not to be alarmist, or prevent you from enjoying some nutritious fruits, veggies, and the sort, but you should know the dangers. From pits to leaves, and everything in between, take note of where these foods’ naturally occurring chemicals and toxins are lurking. While some should be avoided at all costs, others are just a matter of learning how much to eat, and how to prepare them. Your curiosity get the best of you yet? Check out the 13 foods with the potential to drop you to your knees.
If your culinary skills aren’t up to speed, rhubarb is a vegetable with bright ruby leaf stalks similar to celery that’s mostly used in jams, pies, and other desserts. The key is only to eat the stalks. The plant’s leaves contain a chemical called oxalic acid, which is used in bleach and rust removal, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Eating rhubarb leaves induces a slew of bad side effects like burning in your mouth and throat, nausea, vomiting, convulsions—even death. Cooking doesn’t break down these harmful compounds, either. Talk about a two-faced vegetable: Rhubarb stalks can be turned into pudding, and a naturally-occuring compound in its leaves can be turned into corrosive acid.
Cherries seem harmless enough, but these little guys—their pits, actually—can do a lot of damage. Aside from being nearly impossible to chew, or crack with your teeth, the stones of fruits like cherries, apricots, plums, and peaches contain cyanogenic compounds that turns to cyanide when crushed. If you accidentally swallow a cherry pit, don’t sweat it; they’re rarely poisonous when eaten whole, according to the British Columbia Drug and Poison Information Centre. Just be sure to avoid the broken pits. Just one or two of these seeds can do you in. And that’s not a very triumphant way to go out now, is it?
The good thing about puffer fish (also called blowfish or fugu) is it already looks inedible and dangerous. Its skin and organs are incredibly poisonous. When eaten, the toxin called tetrodotoxin can paralyze your muscles, and cause death due to asphyxiation, according to information from the National Institute of Health. What’s worse is there’s no miracle shot, or antidote, and cooking doesn’t negate its toxicity. Even though specially trained chefs remove the liver, ovaries, and skin from the fish before serving the Japanese delicacy, we understand if you want to stick to safe, nutritious varieties of fish like salmon.
One funny-looking fruit, ackee is a member of the soapberry family. You may be more familiar with its sister fruit lychee, but ackee is a pear-shaped fruit native to tropical West Africa, and it needs to ripen fully before consumption. And this isn’t one of those you-need-to-wait-because-it’s-hard deals; you need to wait for it to ripen because it contains toxins that can literally kill you, which is why importation of the raw fruit is banned in the U.S., according to the FDA. If you are curious about ackee, though, you can buy it canned and frozen. This is your best bet—especially since it killed 23 Jamaicans and sickened 194 in 2011, according to a report from the Jamaica Observer.
Castor oil comes from the castor bean, and the reason it’s not a household oil like coconut or olive is its beans are loaded with the poison ricin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Actually, one single bean has enough ricin to kill over 1,000 people if the purified toxin is injected or inhaled, according to research from the journal Analytical Chemistry. And eating five to 10 of the whole beans would prove to be fatal, too. The oil is used as a food additive and flavoring agent (as well as an ingredient in skincare products, cosmetics, plastics, varnishes, and lubricants), and is void of ricin, so if you wish to buy it, just make sure it was produced adhering to safety guidelines. And stick to The Joint Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives recommended daily castor oil intake (for men) of 0 to 0.7 mg/kg body weight.
You know that peanuts are one of the most common cause of food allergies—3 million people in the U.S report being allergic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—but did you know you can develop a food allergy at any point in life? From a mild aggravation to a full-blown anaphylactic reaction, peanuts can constrict your airways and render you unconscious even if you’ve never had a previous reaction. To err on the safe side, visit an allergy specialist if your mouth itches after you pop a few peanuts. It's best to know if you're sensitive before you go spooning a jar of Jif.
Just like peanuts, shellfish is one of the most common food allergies. It sends more people to the emergency room than any other food, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. If your mouth itches, you develop hives, or a stomachache after eating crab, lobster, and other shellfish, you may be one of the nearly 7 million Americans who suffer with the condition. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, vomiting, and can even lead to death if untreated.
As a kid, everyone had an uncle or boy scout leader who taught them the basics of wilderness survival—like how to tie a decent knot, how to tell the time using the sun, and which berries are safe to eat. Consider yourself a good man if you know how to do at least one of these things (our money’s on knot-tying). Elderberries are a no-go when it comes to eating raw in the woods. Consuming the stems or leaves will leave you with a severely upset stomach, and a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found juice made from the raw berries is poisonous as well. Elderberries contact glycosides that turn to cyanide once digested. The good news is that cooking breaks down these harmful compounds, so any jams, wines, or foods made with processed elderberry are safe to eat. Just save the bush-rummaging for the animals.
Fun fact: Wild almonds are seeds, not nuts. Scary fact: Wild almonds are full of cyanide. Before you panic and chuck all your almonds into the trash, know that we consume domesticated sweet almonds, not wild ones. In order for the bitter variety to become edible, they must be processed by a specialized heat treatment (not just nuked in the microwave or warmed in the oven) for the toxins to denature. These little guys pack such a punch that 5-10 bitter almonds can be fatal to a child, and 50 is said to be the lethal dose for adults, according to research from the International Scholarly Research Notices Toxicology. Top 10 Muscle Building Foods >>>
The little beans you grew from plastic cups in kindergarten aren’t as innocent as they seem. Raw beans contain linamarin, which, when consumed, decomposes into a toxic chemical called hydrogen cyanide. If you really have a hankering for ‘em, cook them thoroughly (uncovered) and drain the water.
Nutmeg had its fair share of hullabaloo this past holiday season when reports of nutmeg poisoning surfaced (see: New York Times). In large doses, nutmeg can cause myristicin poisoning, which can be fatal, according to research from the Journal of Medical Toxicology. Symptoms of poisoning include headaches, nausea, dizziness, and hallucinations. So long as you’re not downing tablespoons at a time, you can still enjoy the spice sprinkled atop eggnog and incorporated into cookies.
You’ve heard, maybe even witnessed people who’ve done the cinnamon challenge. The American Associaiton of Poison Control Centers issued a warning in 2012, urging people not to—and with good reason. It’s so difficult to swallow or spit out cinnamon, because you’re essentially swallowing powdered bark from the Cinnamomum tree. And if you do inhale cinnamon, it can cause inflammation and scarring in your lungs, gagging, vomiting, coughing, choking, and even death. So please, stick to mixing it in your oatmeal or coffee.