Editor’s note: For the final day of Food Safety Month, we bring you these popular — and dangerous — myths and their factual counterparts from the Partnership for Food Safety Education. MYTH: If I microwave food, the microwaves kill the bacteria, so the food is safe. illustration Top 10 food safety mythsFACT: Microwaves aren’t what kill bacteria – it’s the heat generated by microwaves that kills bacteria in foods. 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 shaped irregularly or vary in thickness. Even microwave ovens equipped with a turntable can cook unevenly and leave cold spots in food, where harmful bacteria can survive. Be sure to follow package instructions and rotate and stir foods during the cooking process, if the instructions call for it. Observe any stand times as called for in the directions. Check the temperature of microwaved foods with a food thermometer in several spots. MYTH: Cross contamination doesn’t happen in the refrigerator — it is too cold in there for germs to survive. FACT: Some bacteria can survive and even grow in cool, moist environments like the refrigerator. In your refrigerator, keep fresh fruits and vegetables separate from raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs. Clean your refrigerator regularly with hot water and soap and clean up food and beverage spills immediately to reduce the risk of cross-contamination. Don’t forget to clean refrigerator walls and undersides of shelves MYTH: I don’t need to clean the refrigerator produce bin because I only put fruit and vegetables in there. FACT: Naturally occurring bacteria in fresh fruits and vegetables can cause cross-contamination in your refrigerator. A recent NSF International study found that the refrigerator produce compartment was the No. 1 “germiest” area in consumers’ kitchens. To prevent the buildup of bacteria that can cause food poisoning, it is essential to clean your produce bin and other bins in your refrigerator often with hot water and liquid soap, rinse thoroughly, and dry with a clean cloth towel or allow to air dry outside of the refrigerator. MYTH: I don’t need to rinse this melon for safety — the part I eat is on the inside. FACT: Sure you’re not eating the rind of the melon, but there are many ways for pathogens on the outside of the melon to contaminate the edible portion. A knife or peeler passing through the rind can carry pathogens from the outside into the flesh of the melon. The rind also touches the edible portion when fruit is arranged or stacked for serving and garnish. Play it safe and rinse your melon under running tap water while rubbing by hand or scrubbing with a clean brush. Dry the melon with a clean cloth or paper towel.

The Partnership for Food Safety Education encourages people to fight Bac, the ugly green goo guy whose full name is Bacteria. Click on the image to visit the organization's website.
The Partnership for Food Safety Education encourages people to fight Bac, the ugly green goo guy whose full name is Bacteria. Click on the image to visit the organization’s website.
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 like other foods they may 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. Remember, many fruits and vegetables are consumed raw, without a kill step, making that trip to the sink even more crucial. MYTH: Leftovers are safe to eat until they smell bad. FACT: Smell is not an indication of whether food is safe to eat. There are different types of bacteria, some of which cause illness in people and others that don’t. The types of bacteria that cause foodborne illness do not affect the taste, smell, or appearance of food. Freeze or toss refrigerated leftovers within three to four days even if they smell and look fine. If you’re not sure how long leftovers have been in the refrigerator, toss them. If you’re not sure how old your leftovers are, remember: when in doubt, throw it out! MYTH: Freezing food kills harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning.  FACT: Bacteria can survive freezing temperatures. Freezing is not a method for making food safe to eat. When food is thawed, bacteria can still be present and may begin to multiply. Listeria monocytogenes and the Hepatitis A virus are two examples of foodborne pathogens that can survive for long periods at freezing temperatures. Cooking food to the proper internal temperature is the best way to kill harmful bacteria. Use a thermometer to measure the temperature of cooked foods. MYTH: Putting chicken in a colander and rinsing it with water will remove bacteria like Salmonella.  FACT: Rinsing chicken in a colander will not remove bacteria. In fact, it can spread raw juices around your sink, onto your counter tops, and onto ready-to-eat foods. Bacteria in raw meat and poultry can only be killed when cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature, which for poultry is 165 degrees F, as measured by a food thermometer. Save yourself the messiness of rinsing raw poultry and meat. It is not a safety step and can cause cross-contamination Always use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of your food. MYTH: Only kids eat raw cookie dough and cake batter. If we just keep kids away from the raw products when adults are baking, there won’t be a problem. FACT: Just a lick can make you sick. No one of any age should eat raw dough or batter made with raw flour because it could contain germs that cause illness. Whether it’s pre-packaged or homemade, the heat from baking is required to kill germs that might be in the raw ingredients. The finished, baked, product is far safer – and tastes even better. And remember, kids who eat raw cookie dough and cake batter are at greater risk of getting food poisoning than most adults are because their immune systems are not yet mature. MYTH: Once a hamburger turns brown in the middle, it is cooked to a safe internal temperature. FACT: You cannot use visual cues to determine whether food has been cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature. The only way to know that food has been cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature is to use a food thermometer. Ground meat should be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees F, as measured by a food thermometer. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)