“Myth-information” about Food Safety: You’d Better Not Believe It

Food PyramidOne dictionary definition of a myth is a widely held belief that has not been proved.  However, as used today, the word usually refers to an idea that’s widespread but wrong. When the myth is about safe ways to handle food, it can also be unsafe.  The following myths were excerpted from an article created by Alaska’s Food Safety and Sanitation Program. The explanations debunking these myths can eradicate misconceptions you may have and help you operate your kitchen based upon scientific facts rather than fiction.


Myth:  "Food prepared at home is much safer than restaurant food. If I get foodborne illness, it is probably because I ate something bad at a restaurant."


In fact, the opposite is true. Experts say that poor home food-handling practices cause more foodborne illness than professionally prepared food. Most professional food handlers have been trained in safe techniques and are careful about how the food is prepared, cooked and stored. After all, an outbreak of foodborne illness traced to a restaurant can permanently harm business. 

At home, however, most people think they use safe practices. "I've always done it this way, and no one has gotten sick in the past" is often heard. Well, you may have gotten sick many times and thought you had the flu. Also, there are many more dangers in foods than there used to be. Salmonella has appeared in raw eggs, E. coli in ground beef, and exotic bugs on the imported fruits that have recently appeared in our supermarkets.  Educate yourself on safe food practices. Be willing to change your attitudes about handling food in your kitchen. Your family and your stomach will thank you.


Myth:  "Foodborne illness is no big deal. After all, even if I get it, it's just a temporary mild discomfort. I'll get over it."


The sad fact is that foodborne illness can be very serious, even deadly. Some pathogens ("bugs" that cause foodborne illness) give rise to diseases far more serious than the uncomfortable vomiting or diarrhea accompanying what most people call "food poisoning." Foodborne infections can cause spontaneous abortion, reactive arthritis, Guilliain-Barre syndrome (the most common cause of acute paralysis in both children and adults), and HUS (hemolytic uremic syndrome), which can lead to kidney failure and death.


[Editor’s note:  Foodborne illness is usually a matter of a few days’ considerable discomfort, but, because life-threatening risks exist, it pays to be careful with food handling.]


Myth:  "Marinated meat is free of germs because they are killed by the alcohol in the wine, brandy or spices that are used in the marinade. Therefore, it is safe to leave marinating meat out on the counter."


Alcohol is not an efficient sanitizer to begin with. The alcohol is diluted by the juices from the raw meat and so has no real effect on the microbes growing in the raw meat.


Microbes have no taste buds. Spices like cayenne or mustard taste hot to us, but have no influence on microbes. ….Therefore, marinate meat in the refrigerator.


Myth: "I don't need to use a food thermometer. I can tell when my food is cooked."


Harmful bacteria can be present in every piece of food that you have in your kitchen. There is no way to guarantee that any food will be free of harmful bacteria. Since most harmful bacteria can be eliminated at high temperatures, food cooked to adequate internal temperatures will help ensure that your food is safer.


A metal probe thermometer is one of the best investments that you can make to help prevent foodborne illness. A long-stem metal probe thermometer with a range of 0 degrees F to at least 165 degrees F works best.  Do not use any thermometers that contain mercury. Also, glass thermometers should be avoided, since they can break and contaminate the food.


The metal probe thermometer needs to be cleaned before each use. The sensing tip should be inserted into the center or the thickest part of the food after the outside has been cooked long enough to kill bacteria. Otherwise, you may contaminate the interior of the food. Check the temperature in more than one area of the food, since the temperature can vary in different parts of the food.


[Editor’s note:  For more information about food thermometers and their proper care, click here: http://shelflifeadvice.com/content/thermometers-two-types-every-kitchen-should-have]


Myth: "Heating or reheating foods will kill all foodborne disease bacteria."


Proper heating or reheating will kill bacteria that cause foodborne illness. But, there are some bacteria that produce toxins or poisons that are not destroyed by high temperatures. One example is the foodborne bacteria called staphylococcus, called staph (pronounced "staff") for short. Staph toxin can develop in cooked foods that sit out at room temperature for more than two hours. Foods should be quickly heated or reheated to at least 165 degrees F before serving or hotholding [usually above 140 degrees F].  If the food has been out more than two hours, you might be better off just getting rid of it.


[Editor’s note:  Some pathogens are not killed by the high temperatures usually used in home cooking.  They need higher temperatures and longer cooking time than would ordinarily be used by the home chef.] 


Myth: "Hard-boiled eggs are safe and don't need to be refrigerated."


Hard-boiling an egg will kill many bacteria such as salmonella that may be present in the egg. The shell of the egg does offer some protection, but there are still some bacteria that can grow on cooked foods. Also, there might be cracks in the shell that could permit contamination of the interior. Once the bacteria makes it to the inside of the egg, the bacteria can grow and cause foodborne illness. Keep boiled eggs on ice, in a cooler, or in a cold pack if the eggs will not be eaten within two hours’ time.


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