According to a 2008 survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation, 82% of Americans say they are confident they prepare food safely. Other data obtained from this survey showed that many people do not follow the simple guidelines for safe food handling. It makes you wonder what people really know about keeping food safe.
Here are some common “Myths” about Food Safety and what you need to know about them:
Myth #1: "Food prepared at home is much safer than restaurant food. If I get a food borne illness, it is probably because I ate something bad at a restaurant."
In fact, it’s typically the opposite. In general, the majority of professional food handlers (eg: restaurant chefs and workers) have been trained and are certified in safe food handling techniques and are knowledgeable about how food is to be prepared, cooked, and stored.
Poor food handling practices at home are more likely cause food borne illnesses than in a restaurant.
Myth #2: "My kitchen is clean – I am always wiping things down with a dishcloth."
Actually, using dishcloths could be doing more damage. Every time you clean your kitchen, you could be spreading germs throughout your kitchen.
It is best to use paper towels to clean up (after sanitizing of course) and/or to start off each day with a clean and dry wiping cloth. You should not use sponges in the kitchen (they harbor bacteria like you wouldn’t believe!).
Myth #3: Microwaving food kills all bacteria, so the food is safe.
When re-heating food in the microwave, you still must heat to at least 165 oF or the bacteria may not be killed. Using a food thermometer will help in knowing if the temperature is correct.
Tips to Cooking or Re-Heating in the Microwave:
- Cover food with a lid or plastic wrap so steam can aid thorough cooking.
- Stir and rotate your food for even cooking.
Myth #4: "I don’t need to use a food thermometer. I can tell when my food is cooked."
Because most harmful bacteria can be eliminated at high temperatures, food cooked to adequate internal temperatures will help ensure that your food is safer.
Myth #5: "I can’t put hot food into the refrigerator. The food will spoil if I do."
The leading cause of food borne illness in the United States is improper cooling, including leaving cooked foods at room temperature. Cool food as quickly as possible to avoid growing harmful bacteria.
Myth #6: "It is okay to let turkey thaw out on the kitchen counter. Everyone does it that way."
You should NEVER thaw poultry at room temperature. Because it is impossible to ensure that all raw chicken and poultry is free of harmful bacteria, you can only rely on temperature to control or eliminate the harmful bacteria. Bacteria tend to multiply and increase their population between 45 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. By leaving raw turkey or any other raw poultry at room temperature, you are providing bacteria the opportunity to grow.
It is best to thaw the poultry in the refrigerator. You can use other thawing methods, such as microwaving or running cool water over the bird, but these alternative methods need to be followed by immediate cooking.
Myth #7: Eggs are safe. As long as the shell is not cracked, no germs can get in.
Salmonella, one of the bacteria that cause food poisoning, can grow inside fresh, unbroken eggs. Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm, not runny. Scramble eggs to a firm texture. Don’t use recipes in which eggs remain raw or only partially cooked.
Myth #8: "There is just a little bit of mold on top of the food. I can just scrape it off and what’s underneath is still good."
The mold you see is only the tip of the iceberg. Typically, the bacteria or toxins are found under the surface of the food. Although you can sometimes salvage hard cheese or salamis and firm fruits and vegetables by cutting the mold out; most foods should be discarded.
Myth #9: Mayonnaise is the dangerous ingredient in potato salad.
Commercially purchased mayonnaise is pasteurized and has a high acid content that actually slows bacteria growth. The potatoes and eggs in potato salad can cause food borne illness just as easily as the mayonnaise.
Myth #10: Hard boiled eggs are safe and don’t need to be refrigerated.
Keep boiled eggs on ice, in a cooler, or in a cold pack if the eggs will not be eaten within two hours. Just because they are cooked, doesn’t mean they can’t grow bacteria!
Myth #11: Washing your hands briefly before you start preparing food is enough to keep you safe.
Hands need to be washed often and properly, before and after touching food, and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, or handling pets.Proper hand washing requires warm, soapy water; a clean paper towel; and 20 seconds of scrubbing between fingers, under nails, and up to your wrist.
"Proper hand washing requires warm, soapy water; a clean paper towel; and 20 seconds of scrubbing between fingers, under nails, and up to your wrist. Not just a quick rinse off. , MS, nutrition director for the National Center for Food Safety and Technology.
Myth #12: Using the same utensils, cutting boards and plates for foods eaten at the same meal is safe as long as they start out clean.
Not quite. Raw meat and other foods contain bacteria that can cross-contaminate other foods if not kept separate.
Use these tips to ensure you are using safe food prep practices:
- Use separate utensils, cutting boards, and serving plates for meats and produce, or carefully wash them between tasks
- Wash hands after handling raw meat and before handling any other food.
- Put cooked meat on a clean platter, not the same one that held the meat before it was cooked
- Make sure sponges and counters are disinfected and kept clean to avoid contaminating food.
Myth #13: If food is kept in a cooler, it will be maintained at the proper temperature.
The only way to know for sure if your cooler or refrigerator is at the proper temperature is with a thermometer. You want to make sure your cold foods stay below 40 oF.
Another precaution is to pack raw meat and cooked or ready to eat foods in separate coolers. This can help to avoid any potential cross-contamination from spilled juices.
Pack coolers tight with ice, store in a cool spot, and keep them closed as much as possible. Only open when necessary and when it is time to cook or serve the food. Keep drinks in their own cooler so you can open and shut it frequently without having to worry about lowering the temperature of the food.
Myth #14: You can tell when meat is properly cooked by looking at it and pressing on it.
Even the most talented chefs can't tell the exact temperature just by looking and touching. The only way to know if a food is cooked to a high enough temperature to kill the bacteria is with a meat thermometer.
Myth #15: You can tell when food is spoiled because it looks or smells bad.
Most of the time, you can tell if food is spoiled – but not always. Bacteria are invisible and you can't always tell if they are present. It’s best to adopt the motto “When in doubt, throw it out.”
Myth #16: Misting at the grocery store adequately washes produce, so I don’t need to do it when I get home.
Misting produce keeps it looking fresh, but don't mistake that for a proper cleaning. There are way too many ways in which this produce can become contaminated (even if it is properly washed before it was placed on the shelf).
You should wash produce using cold streaming water (no soap or bleach) and where possible, use a soft scrub brush or in the case of greens, submerge it in a water bath to properly clean and reduce residuals and potential bacteria. Although bags of prewashed produce are considered safe, it is still a good idea to carefully inspect the vegetables before eating.
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