High Risk Foods for Children

Almost any food can become contaminated and cause food poisoning.

Most foods, as long as you practice general food safety practices, are safe for the average person to eat.

Young child drinking large glass of milk

Tara Moore / Taxi / Getty Images

High-Risk Foods

There are some high-risk foods that no one should usually eat, though, such as:

  • Raw milk
  • Raw eggs
  • Unpasteurized fruit juice
  • Uncooked and undercooked beef, pork, and poultry
  • Leftovers that have been unrefrigerated for more than two hours
  • Raw cookie dough

It is well known that there can be E. coli in ground beef and Salmonella in chicken, so few people would eat a rare hamburger or an undercooked chicken. You don't have to wait for a food recall to know it is risky to eat these foods without cooking them thoroughly.

High-Risk Foods and Food Poisoning

In addition to foods that are risky for everyone, other foods can be a problem for certain high-risk groups, including pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems, elderly people, and very young children.

In general, people in high-risk groups should not eat these high-risk foods, including:

  • Uncooked shellfish (raw oysters, etc.)
  • Raw sprouts
  • Undercooked, runny eggs (consider using pasteurized eggs)
  • Cheese that is made with unpasteurized milk, which can sometimes include soft cheeses (feta, Brie, Camembert, etc.), blue-veined cheeses, and most Mexican-style cheese (queso blanco, queso fresco, queso panela)
  • Hot dogs, fermented or dry sausages, luncheon meats, cold cuts, other deli meats (e.g., bologna), unless they are first heated until they are steaming hot or to a minimum internal temperature of 165 F
  • Refrigerated pâté or meat spreads
  • Refrigerated smoked seafood

These foods can be a source of Listeria, Salmonella, and other bacteria.

High-Risk Foods for Babies

One of the most well-known examples of a high-risk food for babies is the warning about giving honey to newborns and infants less than 12 months old because of the risk of botulism.

You can also help to prevent your baby from getting food poisoning by making sure he does not drink leftover formula, milk, or juice from a bottle or cup if it has been left out for more than two hours.

Leftover baby food can also be a risk for food poisoning, which is why it is always a good idea to feed your baby from a dish, instead of directly from the jar. You can store an opened jar of baby food, as long as your baby didn't eat directly from the jar, for up to three days. If you fed your baby directly from the jar, you should just throw out whatever is leftover.

There are also guidelines for how long you can safely store pumped breast milk.

High-Risk Foods and Choking

Some foods are risky not because they will cause food poisoning, but because younger kids can choke on them.

Choking is a leading cause of death for younger children, especially infants, toddlers, and preschool age children who are under age four years, which makes it important to avoid these high-risk foods until kids are older:

  • Uncut hotdogs
  • Hard candy
  • Peanuts/nuts
  • Seeds
  • Whole grapes
  • Raw carrots
  • Apples
  • Popcorn
  • Chunks of peanut butter
  • Marshmallows
  • Chewing gum
  • Sausages

While some of these choke foods, like chewing gum, hard candy, and nuts, should simply be avoided until your child is older, others should just be cut up well into 1/2 inch bite-size pieces so that they are less of a choking hazard.

Other High-Risk Foods

Fish can be another high-risk food for kids.

Not necessarily because of bacterial contamination, though—fish can be contaminated with mercury.

That is why the EPA has recommended limits on the amount of fish that certain people eat, including pregnant women, nursing mothers, women who may become pregnant, and young children.

The fish and mercury warnings have prompted recommendations that these high-risk groups:

  • Avoid eating fish with high levels of mercury, such as shark, swordfish, King Mackerel, or tilefish.
  • Eat other fish that are lower in mercury up to twice a week (about 12 ounces/2 average meals), such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish, although they should only eat albacore tuna once a week since it can have more mercury than canned light tuna.
  • Check local advisories before eating fish caught locally by family or friends and limit eating this fish to just one 6 ounce serving if you aren't sure about the mercury level of fish in your area.

Like most other high-risk foods, there are benefits to eating fish, so don't abandon this source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids altogether—just follow these simple rules to make it less risky.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Foodborne illness and high-risk foods.

  2. HealthLink BC. Foods to avoid for people at higher risk of food-borne illness.

  3. Klemm, Sarah. Food safety tips for young children. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

  4. Weisenberger, Jill. Is fish healthy for my child? Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Additional Reading
  • American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement. Prevention of Choking Among Children Pediatrics 125: 601-607.

  • Long: Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases Revised Reprint, 3rd ed. Saunders.

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
 Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.