Growing up, September always meant the beginning the school year. But now, entering my 16th year of schooling, September has taken on a new meaning as a graduate student who is passionate about raising the awareness for the FDA‘s National Food Safety Month.

The second of four children, I was fortunate enough to have parents who educated me on the importance of food safety when I helped prepare family dinner or made baked goods. If you had asked me ten years ago what I thought food safety was, I would probably have said, “Not eating raw cookie dough because the egg has not been cooked in it yet.” A decade later, I would definitely applaud my younger self, but from an entirely new arena of appreciation and knowledge.

Until I began working at Food Safety News this summer, I thought “food safety” simply meant knowing the basics of how to prevent foodborne illness in areas of cross-contamination, consumption of raw food, or the growth of bacteria in temperatures that were not cold enough or not hot enough.

By listening to the questions that my editors received, the comments and reactions of readers, and the praise of many of our national and world food safety leaders, I began to understand that food safety was a far more complex issue. Yet, it remains such a simple topic to begin educating consumers, neighbors and ourselves on.

Take a look at any of the recent FDA Warning Letters that Food Saftey News posts each week. I am repeatedly shocked at the harsh reality of the irresponsibility in facilities where our food is prepared, packed or held before it enters the food supply. These are areas that can feel beyond control as a consumer. I feel a sense of betrayal whenever I read the most recent FDA Warning Letters that have to do with the food supply. I have such an appreciation for the government workers who make it their mission to identify these conditions, and advise facilities to clean up their act.

I also have hope for the choices that consumers can control, and choose to make when they purchase, prepare and serve food. Spreading awareness, educating and reiterating the importance of food safety preparation and storage has become something I feel very passionate about.

Having come from a big family, when I moved away from home for college I continued to gather company around food for various celebrations. Realizing that many of my friends in college were learning to prepare food on their own for the first time, my passion for proper food safety continued. Food safety tips and tricks, like our recent Labor Day article, remind me how easy it is to share this knowledge with others. You never know what disaster your comment, correction, or words might prevent.

Here are a few Food Safety Education Myths the FDA seeks to bust this month:

No. 1 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 cookie dough or cake batter because it could contain pathogens 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. So don’t do it! And remember, kids who eat raw cookie dough and cake batter are at greater risk of getting food poisoning than most adults are.

No. 2 MYTH: When kids cook it is usually “heat and eat” snacks and foods in the microwave. They don’t have to worry about food safety – the microwaves kill the germs.

FACT: Microwaves aren’t magic.
It’s the heat the microwaves generate that kills the germs. Food cooked in a microwave needs to be heated to a safe internal temperature. Microwaves often heat food unevenly, leaving cold spots in food where germs can survive. Kids can use microwaves properly by carefully following package instructions. Even simple “heat and eat” snacks come with instructions that need to be followed to ensure a safe product. Use a food thermometer if the instructions tell you to.

No. 3 MYTH: When kids wash their hands, just putting their hands under running water is enough to get the germs off.

FACT: Rubbing hands with water and soap is the best way to go.
Water is just part of what you need for clean hands. Washing hands properly is a great way to reduce the risk of food poisoning. Here’s how: Wet your hands with clean, running water and apply soap. Rub them together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of hands, between fingers, and under nails. Continue rubbing for at least 20 seconds. Sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice to time yourself. Rinse hands well under running water. Dry your hands using a clean towel, paper towel, and use it to turn off the faucet.

No. 4 MYTH: My kids only eat pre-packaged fruits and veggies for snacks because those snacks don’t need to be washed before they eat them.

FACT: Read your way to food safety.
Giving your kids healthy snacks is a big plus for them. But just because produce is wrapped, it doesn’t mean it’s ready to eat. Read the label of your product to make sure it is says: “ready-to-eat,” “washed,” or “triple washed.” If it does, you’re good to go. If it doesn’t, wash your hands and then rinse the fruits or vegetables under running tap water. Scrub firm items, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush. Dry with a clean cloth towel or paper towel to further reduce germs that may be present.

Happy Fall, and happy and safe food handling!

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