According to a survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation, 82% of Americans say they are confident they prepare food safely. But the data also showed that many people do not follow the simple guidelines for safe food handling.
How much do you really know about keeping food safe? Here are some common myths about food safety, courtesy of the Kansas City, Missouri Department Of Health. This is Part 1; Part 2 will appear tomorrow.
Myth #1: “Food prepared at home is much safer than restaurant food. If I get a food borne illness, it is probably because I ate something bad at a restaurant.”
In fact, it’s typically the opposite. In general, the majority of professional food handlers are knowledgeable about how food is to be prepared, cooked, and stored. Restaurant chefs and kitchen workers) have been trained and certified in safe food handling techniques.
No matter how clean your kitchen looks, it could be harboring harmful bacteria. Photo courtesy MassimoMarchiori.com.
Poor food handling practices at home are more likely cause food borne illnesses than in a restaurant.
Myth #2: “My kitchen is clean: I am always wiping things down with a dishcloth.”
Reality: Actually, using dishcloths could be doing more damage. Every time you clean your kitchen, you could be spreading germs throughout your kitchen.
It is best to use paper towels to clean up and/or to start off each day with a clean and dry wiping cloth. You should not use sponges in the kitchen (they harbor bacteria like you wouldn’t believe!)
Myth #3: “Microwaving food kills all bacteria, so the food is safe.”
Reality: When re-heating food in the microwave, you still must heat to at least 165°F or the bacteria may not be killed. Use a food thermometer to verify that the temperature has been reached.
Tips for cooking or reheating food in the microwave:
Cover food with a lid or plastic wrap so steam can aid thorough cooking.
Stir and rotate your food for even cooking.
You can’t be sure that your cooked food is safe without a food thermometer.
Myth #4: “I don’t need to use a food thermometer. I can tell when my food is cooked by looking at it and pressing on it.”
Reality: Because most harmful bacteria can be eliminated at high temperatures, food cooked to adequate internal temperatures will help ensure that your food is safe. There’s no way you can “tell” without a thermometer. Even the most talented chefs can’t tell the exact temperature just by looking and touching. Also be cautious about cooking meats partially ahead of time, then finishing them later on the grill. This promotes bacterial growth.
Myth #5: “I can’t put hot food into the refrigerator. The food will spoil if I do.”
Reality: The leading cause of food borne illness in the United States is improper cooling, including leaving cooked foods at room temperature. Cool food as quickly as possible to avoid growing harmful bacteria.
Myth #6: “Washing your hands briefly before you start preparing food is enough to keep you safe.”
Reality: Hands need to be washed often and properly, before and after touching food, and after using the bathroom, changing diapers or handling pets.
Proper hand washing requires warm, soapy water; a clean paper towel; and 20 seconds of scrubbing between fingers, under nails, and up to your wrist.
Use separate utensils, cutting boards, and serving plates for meats and produce, or carefully wash them between tasks.
Wash hands after handling raw meat and before handling any other food.
Put cooked meat on a clean platter, not the same one that held the meat before it was cooked.
Make sure sponges and counters are disinfected and kept clean to avoid contaminating food.
Myth #7: “Using the same utensils, cutting boards and plates for foods eaten at the same meal is safe as long as they start out clean.”
Reality: Not quite. Raw meat and other foods contain bacteria that can cross-contaminate other foods if not kept separate. Use these tips to ensure you are using safe food prep practices:
Myth #8: You can tell when food is spoiled because it looks or smells bad.
Reality: Most of the time, you can tell if food is spoiled; but not always. Bacteria are invisible and you can’t always tell if they are present by appearance and aroma. It’s best to adopt the motto “When in doubt, throw it out.”
Head to Food Safety Myths, Part 2. We take on coolers, eggs, mayonnaise, mold and turkey.