Earlier this year two people died in Japan and more ended up in critical condition after choking on rice cakes as part of new year celebrations. As much as we love food, it often proves deadly. Those with severe food allergies will certainly testify to this – utterly harmless food products trigger people’s immune systems. Millions of people across the world have various food allergies and the number of people be-ing diagnosed is only growing with UK hospital admissions for children with food allergies increasing by 700% since 1990. However, you don’t have to be allergic for food the prove deadly. Although, allergens did only account for 14 percent of food-related illnesses in 2015, with those pesky micro-organisms taking first place with 18 percent of illnesses.
On the topic of deadliest food, the in-famous fugu pufferfish usually seems to be bought up. It contains tetrodotoxin in its liver and internal organs and if improperly pre-pared can contaminate the rest of the flesh with five people dying in 2015 alone. Despite this its still seen as a delicacy or at least as a c h a l l e n g e by the culinary dare-devils of the world. I’m just go-ing to take it as a sign that it really doesn’t want to be eaten. Similarly, those who are brave (or foolish) enough to try live octopus tentacles may find it tough to swallow as sometimes the suction cups latch on to your throat making it a major choking hazard. Namibia’s speciality, the giant bull frog, might not cause you to croak but may cause kidney failure if eaten when they are too young.
It’s not only exotic foods that secretly contain poisons. Many everyday food items have the capacity to be deadly. Bitter almonds and many fruit seeds contain some delicious cyanide. Brazil nuts and bananas are radioactive. Tuna and some other kinds of fish contain varying levels of mercury. Chilli peppers contain a chemical called capsaicin which is so strong it can be used as an industrial paint stripper. Nutmeg is a hallucinogenic, so two tablespoons or more could lead to a dangerous ending. A few years ago there was the tiny issue of arsenic being found in rice and fruit juice. Don’t worry though, you would have to eat excessive amounts of most of these foodstuffs for it to prove fatal.
You sometimes don’t need to eat the food for it to prove deadly. In 1814, more than 323 000 gallons of beer burst free from their containers and gushed onto the streets, destroying two houses, killing eight people and injuring more. Similarly, in 1919, 21 people were killed and 150 injured in the Great Molasses Flood where a molasses container burst and a wave of molasses rushed through the streets at an estimated 35 mph. An unfortunately sticky end. In 2013 there was yet an-other molasses flood into Honolulu harbour but fortunately nobody died this time. Unfortunately more than 26 000 fish did suffocate – much to the joy of the local shark population. There are also many historic food-related deaths. Henry I of England died after eating a feast of lampreys after his physician told him (to paraphrase) ‘stop eating so many lam-preys’. Sir Francis Bacon died of pneumonia after supposedly trying to freeze a chick-en by stuffing it with snow.
However, by far the deadliest substance most people consume is the obvious winner, alcohol. And not in the fun way in which George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence died. He was supposedly executed by being drowned in a barrel of wine in 1478. In the UK in 2015 there were 8758 alcohol-related deaths; it’s the biggest risk factor for death among 15-49 years olds in the UK and it costs the NHS around £3.5 bn annually. So freshers: beware.