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9 Food Poisoning Myths

Do you know the truth about food safety?
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

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 Council Foundation.

From 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.

Food Poisoning Myths

MYTH: Mayonnaise is often the cause of food-borne illness.

REALITY: Mayonnaise does not cause food poisoning, bacteria do. And bacteria grow best on foods that contain 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 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," 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 eat.

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 clean.

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.

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