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Food safety myth busters

September is National Food Safety Education Month. Let’s review some myths surrounding food safety and what are the facts. Storing leftovers is the basis for this look at four featured myths from The myths are presented with the facts all consumers need to know to help reduce their risk of foodborne illness.

Myth: Leftovers are safe to eat until they smell bad. Fact: Most people would not choose to eat spoiled, smelly food. However, if they did, they would not necessarily get sick. This is because there are different types of bacteria, some of which cause illness in people and others that don’t. The types of bacteria that do cause illness do not affect the taste, smell, or appearance of food. For this reason, it is important to freeze or toss refrigerated leftovers within 3 to 4 days. If you are unsure of how long your leftovers have been sitting in the refrigerator, don’t take the risk — when in doubt, throw it out!

Myth: I use bleach and water to sanitize my countertops and the more bleach I use the more bacteria I kill. Fact: There is no advantage to using more bleach. In fact, overuse of bleach can be harmful because it is not safe to consume. To create a sanitizing solution, it is recommended that you use 1 tablespoon of unscented liquid bleach per gallon of water. Flood the countertop with the solution, allow it to sit for a few minutes, then pat with clean, dry paper towels or allow to air dry. Any leftover sanitizing solution can be stored, tightly covered, for up to one week. After that, the bleach has lost its effectiveness.

Myth: I don’t need to wash my produce if I am going to peel it. Fact: You should wash fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water just before eating, cutting or cooking. Harmful bacteria could be on the outside of the produce. If you peel or cut it without first washing it the bacteria could be transferred to the part you eat. Wash delicate produce such as grapes or lettuce under cool running water. Blot dry with a clean cloth towel or paper towel. Rub firm-skin fruits and vegetables under running tap water or scrub with a clean produce brush. Never use detergent or bleach to wash fresh fruits or vegetables. These products are not intended for consumption.

Myth: The stand time recommended for microwaveable foods is optional, it’s just so you don’t burn yourself. Fact: Stand time is not about cooling the microwaved food, but rather it’s an important part of the cooking process. Stand times are usually just a few minutes and the time is necessary to bring the food to a safe internal temperature as measured with a food thermometer. To ensure safety with microwave cooking, always read and follow package instructions, know your microwave’s wattage, and use a food thermometer to ensure food has reached a safe internal temperature. A proper reheat temperature is 165° F.

How did you do with the myths? It’s OK if you thought they were true. Just move forward to create new behaviors with your food and pass on the truth about proper food safety practices.

Julie Buck, EdD, RDN, is a registered dietitian, who is employed as a Family and Consumer Sciences Educator at the University of Idaho Extension, Bingham County. She can be reached at (208)785-8060 or