The food that fortifies your gut against food poisoning pathogens

You’ll probably get food poisoning at some point in your life. Even if you always avoid the potato salad sitting in the sun at company picnics, order your burgers well-done and never set foot inside a buffet-style restaurant, one day you’ll find yourself crouched next to a toilet cursing the suspicious meal that put you in this uncomfortable situation.

Fortunately, food poisoning doesn’t strike that often… if you’re lucky you’ll only have to deal with it a few times. And if you really want to stack the deck against those darn food-borne pathogens, there may be a way to lower your odds even more…

It’s not a quick fix. In fact, it’s the exact opposite — it’s a total diet overhaul. But if you do it, it could make your gut pathogen-proof. Plus, you’ll get loads of other health benefits. What do you need to do?

Put more plants on your plate.

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Plants protect against this dangerous form of E. coli

A new study from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center shows a plant-rich diet could fortify your gut against food-borne pathogens like E. coli.

In the study, researchers fed some mice with a special diet that mimicked the effects of a plant-rich diet and other mice a traditional diet. Then they exposed all the mice to a dangerous strain of E. coli known as EHEC. This strain causes bloody diarrhea, vomiting, and potentially deadly colon inflammation. Guess which mice came out on top?

The ones in the plant-rich group, of course. They had a much lower rate of infection than mice eating a traditional diet, less dangerous bacteria in their gut and fewer symptoms. Why?

Plant-rich diets contain a lot of pectin. Pectin turns into galacturonic acid once it’s digested by bacteria in the gut. And galacturonic acid is proven to inhibit EHEC.

Now, there’s no guarantee the results of this study will translate to humans. But there’s already evidence that vegetable-rich diets like the Mediterranean diet or vegetarian diet are better for our gut health than Western diets low in vegetables. And this study shows that’s probably true.

A few more food poisoning prevention tactics

“Eat more plants” is probably the safest health advice I could ever give you. No one can deny that eating more vegetables will make you healthier. Will it protect you from foodborne pathogens?

Related: 5 Common types of food poisoning and how to avoid them

As I said, there are no guarantees. But there’s plenty of evidence that the fiber found in plants increases the good bacteria in your gut and decreases gut inflammation. If you have more healthy bacteria in your gut and less inflammation, your gut is in a better position to fend off pathogens. That’s why sometimes one person gets way sicker than another even though they were exposed to the same bad bacteria in their food.

But there’s one other thing I should mention…

Even though eating lots of plants can help fortify your gut from pathogens, plants are a potential source of food-borne pathogens — especially raw plants (just think about all the romaine lettuce scares that have happened in the past few years).

Sadly enough, salads are one of the top sources of food poisoning in restaurants. So, you may want to play it safe and order cooked veggies when you’re eating out. As you know, cooking food kills bacteria and decreases the odds of pathogenic bacteria sneaking through. When you’re making a salad at home, you can decrease the risk of contamination by:

  • Giving salad greens and other veggies a good wash.
  • Avoiding bagged salad mixes that contain mushy leaves.
  • Not eating pre-prepared salads that have been sitting at room temperature for long periods.


  1. Plant-rich diet protects mice against foodborne infection, researchers find — MedicalXpress
  2. Diet-derived galacturonic acid regulates virulence and intestinal colonization in enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli and Citrobacter rodentiumNature Microbiology
  3. Plant-Based Diets Promote Healthy Gut Microbiome — Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
  4. Some American food-safety inspections aren’t happening due to the government shutdown, sparking food-poisoning concerns. Here’s what this food-poisoning expert avoids ordering — Business Insider
  5. Top 9 Foods Most Likely to Cause Food Poisoning — Healthline
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and