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Myth-busters from Partnership for Food Safety Education

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Do you know how to keep your food safe? Some of the things you may have heard about food safety are true, but others are not. The Partner-ship for Food Safety Education shares some food safety myths that need to be “busted,” and the facts you need to know to help prevent foodborne illness.

Myth:  I’m a vegetarian, so I don’t have to worry about food poisoning.

Fact:  Fruits and vegetables may carry bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. They should always be washed under running tap water, including those that are peeled before eating. Bleach or detergent should not be used. Packaged fruits or vegetables that are labeled “ready-to-eat” or “washed” do not need to be washed again.

Myth: Locally grown organic foods will never give me food poisoning.

Fact:  Any food, whether organic or conventional, may be contaminated with illness-causing bacteria at some point between the farm where it was grown and your table. To reduce your risk of foodborne illness, always follow the four food safety steps: clean, separate, cook and chill.

Myth: Freezing food kills harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning.

Fact: Freezing stops the growth of bacteria, but doesn’t kill them.  When the food is thawed, bacteria can still be present and may start to grow.  Cooking food to the proper internal temperature is the best way to kill harmful bacteria.

Myth: You should not put hot food in the refrigerator.

Fact: Hot foods can be placed in the refrigerator. For quicker cooling, divide large pots of food into smaller portions and use shallow containers. If you leave food out on thecounter to cool, be sure to refrigerate it within two hours. Bacteria grow quickly in the “danger zone,” between 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit. Perishable foods are not safe to eat if they sits at room temperature for longer than two hours (one hour if the outdoor temperature is 90 degrees or higher).

Myth: Leftovers are safe to eat until they smell bad.

Fact: There are many different types of bacteria. Some cause food spoilage; others cause foodborne illness. The bacteria that can make you sick may not make food look, smell or taste bad. For this reason, refrigerated leftovers should be eaten or frozen within three to four days.  If you’re not sure how long leftovers have been sitting in the refrigerator, don’t take a chance – “When in doubt, throw it out!”

Myth: Plastic or glass cutting boards are safer than wooden cutting boards.

Fact: Any type of cutting board can hold harmful bacteria on its surface.  All cutting boards should be washed and sanitized after each use. Once any cutting board gets overly worn or develops hard-to-clean cuts in its surface, it should be discarded.

Myth: The stand time recommended for microwaveable foods is optional – it’s just so you don’t burn yourself.

Fact: The recommended stand time is not for cooling the microwaved food.  It is an important part of the cooking process and is needed to bring the food to a safe internal temperature. To ensure safe microwave cooking, always read and follow package directions, know the wattage of your microwave and use a food thermometer to be sure the food has reached a safe internal temperature.

Reference: Partnership for Food Safety Education. (n.d.). Home Food Safety Mythbusters.  Retrieved Aug. 22, 2012 from FightBac.org/campaigns/mythbusters.

Source: Debbie Clouthier, Extension Associate for Food Safety and Preservation, University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture

Jane Proctor is Trimble County’s Cooperative Extension agent for family and consumer services.