7 Food Safety Myths to Avoid

Let’s start off with a quick quiz. Which of these two food safety mistakes is worse? Letting a dog lick a plate when you’re finished eating? Or putting a steak back on its original plate after it’s grilled?

According to a food scientist, and as reported by NBC News, it’s the second one. Robert Gravani is a professor emeritus of food science at Cornell University.

He says letting Fido lick a plate is “mostly OK,” while returning a grilled steak to its original platter and then eating it is “very risky.”

Other common food safety mistakes he rates as “risky” include not washing produce properly. And consuming a pizza for breakfast that sat out all night.

Millions suffer food poisoning annually

Food safety is a very important issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), one in six Americans becomes sick from eating contaminated food annually.

Of those 48 million people, 128,000 are hospitalized. And 3,000 of them die.

Before I provide you with tips from various health organizations, let’s take a look at some food safety myths. One of the most important factors in gaining peace of mind in an emergency is knowledge.

Adhering to a myth just because you’ve heard that it is true can do you a lot more harm than good.

Myth No. 1 – Don’t put hot foods in the refrigerator.

I have to ask… why not? Does anyone think a hot food item will suddenly explode in a cold refrigerator?

Now, it does make sense to avoid putting a hot, fragile container in the refrigerator because it could crack.

But the food itself will be fine. It was going to get cold in the fridge eventually anyway. The speed at which it does so will not affect its texture, taste or nutritional value when you’re ready to eat it. 

Myth No. 2 – If you let food sit out for more than two hours, you can make it safe by reheating it quickly at a high temperature. 

Again, I’m pretty sure it was not a rocket scientist who came up with this one. If food is starting to spoil, reheating it quickly at a high temperature will do it no good.

Different types of food will spoil more quickly than others. And you want to be especially careful with dairy products. 

Regardless, reheating it in a hurry won’t send your food back in time to when it was healthy.

Myth No. 3 – The last meal I ate is what caused my food-borne illness. 

Of course, this one may be true. But the point is, it is not necessarily true. Sometimes you won’t notice the effects of food poisoning for several hours after you eat contaminated food.

By that time, you may have had another meal or snack or even a beverage that was contaminated. 

If your food poisoning is bad enough that it sends you to the emergency room, tell them everything you’ve consumed that day. Knowing everything you’ve eaten could help them determine the best treatment for you.

Myth No. 4 – Use-by dates are nothing more than suggestions.

I know some folks who completely ignore use-by dates. They base their decision on whether to eat older bread, for example, on whether they spot mold.

That’s not a safe way to live. Yes, sometimes you can get by eating something a few days beyond its use-by date. But be careful.

Also, remember there is an important distinction between “use-by” and “best by.” Eating food beyond a use-by date is riskier than consuming food past a best-by date.

Myth No. 5 – A microwave oven will kill food bacteria.

Unless you have a magic microwave oven, I would not count on this being true. Yes, heat can kill bacteria, but only if the food is cooked evenly.

Microwaves heat much more quickly than a conventional oven. They can be great time-savers. But bacteria are only killed when food is heated to a safe internal temperature.

Sometimes in a microwave oven, foods that vary in thickness or are shaped irregularly can cook unevenly. When using a microwave, stop it periodically to stir the contents.   

Myth No. 6 – If you pick up dropped food within 5 seconds, it’s OK to eat.

I’m guessing the person who came up with this rather unscientific theory was really hungry.

The 5-second rule is completely arbitrary. Depending on where food is dropped, it could become contaminated nearly instantly or not at all.

Here’s a better rule to follow. If you can’t wash off food that has fallen on the floor, don’t eat it. Toss it out.

Myth No. 7: If food looks, smells, and tastes good, it’s OK to eat.

The vast majority of food that we eat does look, smell, and taste good. And it is OK to eat.

But those tests alone do not guarantee food is safe to consume. This is especially true when food is just starting to spoil.

You probably won’t know it until it’s in your system and is causing problems. The fact is, we usually cannot see, smell, or taste harmful bacteria in food.

There are few experiences worse than getting food poisoning. We owe it to ourselves and family members to do everything possible to avoid it. 

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