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Food Poisoning Health Center

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9 Food Poisoning Myths

Do you know the truth about food safety?

Food Poisoning Myths continued...

"Dirty hands, dish towels, sponges, and countertops can also transfer bacteria or cross- contaminate, so be sure everything is clean before you start food preparation," says Burton-Freeman.

MYTH:If food is kept in a cooler, it will be maintained at the proper temperature.

REALITY: "Bacteria grow in the danger zone, which is anywhere from 40-140 degrees F, and when the weather is warm and you are eating outdoors, it is a challenge to keep food at or below 40 degrees F unless you take precautions," says food safety expert Cody. The only way to know for sure if your cooler or refrigerator is at the proper temperature is with a thermometer.

Cody advises packing raw meat in a separate cooler from other foods to avoid any potential cross-contamination from spilled juices. Pack your coolers tight with ice, store in a cool spot, and keep them closed until it is time to cook or serve the food. Keep drinks in their own cooler so you can open and shut it frequently without having to worry about lowering the temperature of the food.

MYTH:You can tell when meat is properly cooked by looking at it and pressing on it.

REALITY: Even the most talented chefs can't tell the exact temperature just by looking and touching. "The only way to know if a food is cooked properly to kill the bacteria is with a meat thermometer," says Cody. She warns against cooking meats partially ahead of time, then finishing them the grill on location because this promotes bacterial growth. Burgers should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F.

MYTH:Food can be left at room or outdoor temperature for more than two hours.

REALITY: Because bacteria grow rapidly in the "danger zone" between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F, food left at room temperature for more than two hours should be discarded. When the temperature outside is 90 degrees F or hotter, food should be discarded after just one hour.

MYTH:You can tell when food is spoiled because it looks or smells bad.

REALITY: Most of the time, you can tell if a food is spoiled -- but not always. Bacteria are invisible and you can't always tell if they are present. When in doubt, throw it out, food safety experts say.

MYTH:Misting at the grocery store adequately washes produce.

REALITY: Misting produce keeps it looking fresh, but don't mistake that for a proper cleaning. "Wash produce using cold streaming water (no soap or bleach) and where possible, use a soft scrub brush or in the case of greens, submerge it in a water bath to properly clean and reduce residuals and potential bacteria," says Burton-Freeman.

Produce with a thick peel, like bananas, may not need to be washed unless you are cutting into them with a knife. "Bacteria on the peel can be transferred to the interior with a knife, so melons and other thick-skinned fruits should be thoroughly washed," she advises. Bags of prewashed produce are considered safe, but consumers are advised to carefully inspect the vegetables before eating.

Reviewed on August 28, 2008

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