Food Safety Myths: The Truth and the Rumors
Food safety is a complicated issue. But there are some facts, and some myths about this topic. Unfortunately, many of the myths, if believed, can cause some serious problems and may mean hospitalization for some people. Foodsafety.gov has compiled a list of food safety myths and the facts that debunk them.
Food Safety Myths: The Truth and the Rumors
Some of these myths arise from old wives’ tales; others have been spread over the internet. These are the top 10 food safety myths.
Food poisoning isn’t that big a deal. Actually, food poisoning sickens 48,000,000 Americans every year. At least 128,000 people are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. Food poisoning is much more than a stomach upset and some vomiting or diarrhea. People can develop sepsis and dehydration and need hospitalization. In addition, some pathogens can cause long-term health problems, such as endocarditis, reactive arthritis, and high blood pressure. Some pathogens can cause full body paralysis, and others lead to kidney failure, strokes, and seizures.
It’s okay to thaw meat on the counter, since cooking it will kill the bacteria. This myth is dangerous for two reasons. First, so much bacteria may grow in the meat as it’s thawing that even cooking won’t destroy them. Second, if you thaw a steak or ground beef on the counter, for instance, and cook it to medium doneness, many bacteria in the center of the cut will not be destroyed and you will get sick. And third, some bacteria produce toxins as they grow that are not destroyed by heat.
I need lots of bleach to clean my kitchen. Most pathogens are killed with soap and water. If you really want to deep clean your kitchen, or if a food is recalled for Listeria monocytogenes contamination, all you need to use is 1 tablespoon of liquid chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water. Cleaning your fridge is simple and deep cleaning should be done at least once a season.
I don’t need to wash fruits or vegetables if I peel them. Any pathogens on the surface of produce are easily transferred into the center of the fruit or vegetable during the peeling process. Always rinse all produce before you start preparing it. Some produce, such as melons, may need special cleaning.
Rinse meat, poultry, and seafood to get rid of bacteria. This persistent myth is dangerous. Never rinse meats under the faucet. When meats are rinsed, bacteria can aerosolize and move up to 3 feet away from the faucet. That means you contaminated the sink and countertop, and you, with bacteria. The only way to get rid of bacteria on meat is to cook it to a safe temperature.
Letting food sit after it’s microwaved allows the food to cool so you don’t burn yourself. Standing time (on a solid surface) is important in microwave cooking. This time lets the food heat up to a safe final internal temperature, and to help ensure that any cold spots are heated. Always use a food thermometer to check the temperature of microwaved food before you eat.
Leftovers are fine unless they smell off. The pathogens that can make you seriously ill, including E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria monocytogenes, will not change the taste, texture, look, or smell of the food. Most leftovers should be discarded after four days even if the food smells fine.
Once the food is cooked, all pathogens are killed. The possibility of bacterial growth increases after cooking, so keeping cooked food warm (or cold) at a safe temperature is critical for food safety. The danger zone is 40°F to 140°F. Never let food stand out at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Refrigerate leftovers promptly.
Marinades are acidic, which kills pathogens, so I can marinate food on the counter. Never marinate food on the counter. Marinades only affect the surface of food, and bacteria can be on the inside of a chicken breast, for instance. Always marinate foods in the fridge.
I wash fruits and veggies with soap before eating. Rinsing under clean running water and scrubbing with a clean vegetable brush is the best way to clean produce. Some soaps can remain on the food and aren’t intended for human consumption.
Now that you understand these food safety myths, you can keep yourself and your family safe in the kitchen. Follow these rules, avoid cross-contamination, and use a food thermometer every time you cook for the safest meals.