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Mythbusters: Learn the Truth About Home Food Safety

It’s September, so it’s time for us to bust some myths.

Beginning in the mid-90s, National Food Safety Education Month has focused public attention on safe food handling and preparation.  Since 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in cooperation with the non-profit Partnership for Food Safety Education, have marked the occasion by exposing myths about food safety that somehow keep cropping up. 

Food safety myths may not sound very serious. But they may cause food handling mistakes that can lead to food poisoning, severe illness, and even death. So it’s important to get the facts straight. 

Here are the myths — and the facts — for 2011:

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

Fact: Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. But justlike other foods they carry a risk of foodborne illness. Always rinse produce under running tap water, including fruits and vegetables with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Never use detergent or bleach to wash fresh fruits or vegetables as these products are not intended for consumption.  Packaged fruits and vegetables labeled “ready-to-eat” or “washed” don’t need to be re-washed. Learn more tips at: http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/types/fruits/index.html.

Myth: Freezing foods kills harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning (also called foodborne illness).

Fact: Bacteria can survive freezing temperatures. Freezing food is not a method for making foods safe to eat. When food is thawed, bacteria can still be present and may begin to multiply. Cooking food to the proper internal temperature is the only way to kill harmful bacteria. Use a thermometer to measure the internal temperature of cooked foods. See the chart at: http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/mintemp.html.

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

Fact: Any food from any source can become unsafe if it is not handled and stored properly. Consumers in their homes can take action to keep themselves and their families safe. That is why it is important to reduce your risk of food poisoning by practicing the four steps to food safety: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.  Learn more about these steps at:  http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/basics/index.html.

Myth:  Plastic or glass cutting boards don’t hold harmful bacteria on their surfaces like wooden cutting boards do.

Fact:  Regardless of the type of cutting board you use, it should be washed and sanitized after each use. Solid plastic, tempered glass, sealed granite, and hardwood cutting boards are dishwasher safe. However, wood laminates don’t hold up well in the dishwasher. Once cutting boards of any type become excessively worn or develop hard-to-clean grooves, they should be discarded.

Mythbusters of past years can be found at http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/basics/myths/.

By Howard Seltzer, National Education Advisor, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, FDA

© Food Safety News
  • Doc Mudd

    Myth: Food from small producers is cleaner and safer than food from large producers.
    Fact: Just the reverse, as far as milk is concerned.
    http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iBVdAKRuqSN9C2KSWGG9s7w-bK-w?docId=8369badcf095485aaf4860d842e2663c
    “The study published in the August issue of the Journal of Dairy Science used 2008 data collected by the Wisconsin government to look at levels of cells linked to mammary disease in dairy cows and bacteria tied to improper refrigeration or unclean equipment.”
    “It found milk produced at large and extra-large farms had lower levels of both bacteria than that produced by small ones, although all the farms met standards for grade A milk certification.”
    “Lead researcher Steve Ingham said the perception that smaller was better seemed to spring from the belief that small farmers have a greater incentive to collect milk hygienically and avoid taxing their cows with over-milking.”
    “However, he noted, larger operators also have an incentive to keep their herds healthy, including by removing cows that have udder infections so they don’t infect others. Bigger farms also keep bacterial counts down by investing in better sanitation and refrigeration equipment, he said.”

  • Doc Mudd

    Myth: Farmers market food has been gently washed clean by hand with loving attention from toothsome farmers’ daughters, each tender green leaf being affectionately swabbed with you, the customer assiduously in mind.
    Fact: Nope. It’s been tossed in Ma’s old busted washing machine and spun with the same ferocity the old lady used so effectively on all our old socks and underwear.
    http://tinyfarmblog.com/spin-cycle/
    You’re gonna wanna re-wash all that farmers market stuff when you get it home, before feeding it to the kids.

  • Doc Mudd

    Myth: “Know your farmer, know your food” is all you need to know to avoid sickening your family with food poisoning.
    Fact: You cannot see bacterial contamination on/in farmers market or CSA food, and neither can “your farmer”.
    If you insist on purchasing and feeding hobby farm food to your family, in addition to “your farmer” and “your food” you had better also know the contact information for your local health department…because it’s left entirely up to you, the consumer, to manage the safety of FSMA Tester-exempt hobby farm food for your family and your community should an investigation be required.
    It’s caveat emptor at the farmers market and at the CSA — it’s your problem to tackle. Without reporting foodborne illness and following up with proper medical attention and documentation you and your family are left without recourse.
    Find your local health department here:
    http://www.foodsafetynews.com/find-your-health-department/
    Learn the ropes for reporting and claiming damages from food poisoning here:
    http://www.marlerblog.com/attorney-videos/the-epidemiology-of-foodborne-illness-with-patti-waller-of-marler-clark/

  • Steve

    Actually, industrial agriculture Doesn’t want you to Know Your Food at all — just be a good little mindless consumer and keep going to the store and supermarket to stock up on all those Yum brands — without any labeling divulging the corporations behind the cutsy farmesque brand names…
    And speaking of yummy — how about those Prime Cuts that are actually scraps stuck together with “meat glue”….
    http://healthfreedoms.org/2011/03/29/industry-wide-use-of-meat-glue-sticks-together-scraps-of-meat-to-sell-you-prime-cuts/

  • Doc Mudd

    Myth: The only way ‘alternative agriculture’ types can sell their grubby overpriced schlock is by scaremongering and spuriously bashing a modern food system that supplies the safest, most abundant, most affordable food the world has ever known to nourish a growing global population.
    Fact: Oh, right, this one’s true since alternative products cannot seem to stand on their own merits. How safe, sane and sustainable is that?