Do you know what it takes to keep you and your family from getting
food poisoning? Some 82% of Americans say they're confident they prepare
food safely. Yet many do not adhere to simple guidelines for safe food
handling, according to a 2008 survey by the International Food Information
salmonella to E. coli to listeria, food poisoning is on consumers'
minds after a series of high-profile outbreaks across the country. But how much
do we really know about keeping food safe? WebMD consulted food safety experts
to dispel common myths and offer advice on avoiding food poisoning.
MYTH:Mayonnaise is often the cause of food-borne
REALITY: Mayonnaise does not
cause food poisoning, bacteria do. And bacteria grow best on foods that
protein and are at temperatures between 40-140 degrees F. Commercially
prepared mayonnaise is safe to use. At greater risk for developing bacteria are
the foods mayonnaise is commonly mixed with for picnics and potlucks, such as
pasta, potatoes, eggs, chicken, or tuna. But even these will be safe if you
keep your cooler below 40 degrees F.
"Small, cut-up surfaces allow the bacteria to grow in the right
environment," says Mildred Cody, PhD, RD, head of the nutrition division at
Georgia State University. "Try taking
whole foods like cherry tomatoes that are easy to eat and leave the mixed
salads at home unless you can store them properly."
MYTH: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
"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,"
explains Britt Burton-Freeman, PhD, MS, nutrition director for the National
Center for Food Safety and Technology.
MYTH:As long as you cook eggs, they're safe to
REALITY: You can safely enjoy your eggs over easy, but not sunny-side
up. "Cook the eggs by flipping once so that the egg white is completely cooked
and the egg yolk is starting to gel to ensure a safe egg," says Egg Nutrition
Center nutrition director Marcia Greenblum, MS, RD.
MYTH:Using the same utensils, cutting boards, and plates
for foods eaten at the same meal is safe as long as they start out
REALITY: Raw meat and other foods contain bacteria that can
cross-contaminate other foods if not kept separate. Use separate utensils,
cutting boards, and serving plates for meats and produce, or carefully wash
them between tasks. 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.