Food safety: myths, facts
Over the years we have all heard advice related to food safety, some of which rings true, while other guidance is just plain wrong. September is National Food Safety Education month, which is a good time to review myths and facts regarding safe food handling.
Myth 1: “If I heat food in the microwave, the microwaves kill the bacteria so the food is safe.”
Fact: Microwaves aren’t what kill bacteria — it is the heat generated from the microwaves that kills bacteria in food. Microwave ovens are great time savers and will kill bacteria in foods when heated to a safe internal temperature. However, foods can cook unevenly because they may be irregularly shaped or vary in thickness. Even microwave ovens equipped with a turntable can cook unevenly and leave cold spots in foods, where harmful bacteria can survive.
Myth 2: “Of course I wash all bagged lettuce and greens, because it might make me sick if I don’t.”
Fact: While it is important to thoroughly wash most fresh fruits and vegetables, if packaged greens are labeled ‘ready to eat’, ‘washed’ or ‘triple-washed’, then the produce doesn’t need to be washed at home. Pre-washed greens have gone through a cleaning process immediately before going into the bag. Re-washing and handling the greens actually creates opportunities for contamination. Always handle pre-washed greens with clean hands and make sure that cutting boards, countertops and utensils are clean.
Myth 3: “I don’t need to use a food thermometer. I can tell when my food is cooked by looking at it or checking the temperature with my finger.”
Fact: The only sure way to know when a food is safely cooked is to check the temperature with a food thermometer and confirm it has reached a safe internal temperature. Color, texture and steaming are not indicators that a food is safe to eat. The outside of a food might be steaming hot, but there may be cold spots inside. Measuring food with a food thermometer will not only indicate that a food is safely cooked, but can also preserve food quality by not over-cooking. Remember to clean and sanitize food thermometers between uses.
Myth 4: “I can’t re-freeze foods after I thaw them — I have to cook them or throw them away.”
Fact: If raw foods, such as meat, poultry, egg products and seafood have been thawed in the refrigerator, they can be safely re-frozen without cooking for later use (if the recommended time limit for the food has not been exceeded.) Never thaw raw foods on the countertop at room temperature. If foods are thawed outside of the refrigerator, for example in the microwave or in cold water, the food should be cooked immediately. Never re-freeze foods that are raw or not fully cooked if they have been thawed by a method other than in the refrigerator.
For more information on safe food handling, “like” our page, “K-State Research & Extension-Leavenworth County,” on Facebook. You can also sign up to be a safe food partner at fightbac.org, where you will receive weekly tips on preventing food-borne illness.
— K‑State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well‑being of Kansans.