Myth Versus Fact – Your Guide to Avoiding Food Poisoning

Are You Preparing Food Safely or Exposing Yourself to Salmonella, E. Coli, or Listeria?

By Chantelle Kadala

Most of us got our food poisoning safety tips from our moms or grandmas, if we ever got any advice at all. You’ve seen the macaroni salad at the barbecue that is only eaten by people who have never heard the iron-clad don’t eat mayonnaise that has been left out in the sun rule.

According to a 2008 survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation, most people do not adhere to safe food handling guidelines when they are cooking even though 82% percent of Americans think they are preparing food safely. There is a disconnect between what we know and what we practice but the real concern is making sure what we know is correct.

So how much of what we know is fact and how much is myth?

MYTH: Mayonnaise left out at room temperature will cause food poisoning.

FACT: Mayonnaise itself does not cause food poisoning but the bacteria that can grow at room temperature can. A greater risk are the chopped up foods that mayonnaise is often mixed with like eggs, tuna and chicken for barbecues and potlucks because the cut up surfaces and being left out at room temperature create a good environment for bacteria to grow in.

MYTH: Washing your hands before preparing food keeps you safe from food poisoning.

FACT: Washing your hands before preparing food is an excellent start. What really needs to be happening is washing your hands a lot more and properly. Scrub with warm water and soap for 20 seconds and dry with a clean paper towel before and after touching food, using the bathroom, changing diapers or handling pets.

MYTH: Sunny side up eggs are safe because they have been cooked.

FACT: Sunny side up eggs are usually partially cooked. To be completely safe flip the egg at least once to make sure the whites are completely cooked and the yolk has gelled to ensure everything has reached a bacteria killing temperature.

MYTH: You can tell when meat is cooked enough by looking at it.

FACT: The only way to tell for sure if meat is cooked to a level that successfully kills bacteria is with a meat thermometer. I know some super chefs but not one them has the super power of telling a temperature on sight.

MYTH: Food can be left at room temperature for more than two hours and still be safe.

FACT: Bacteria grows freakishly fast between 40 and 140 degrees F. Your safest bet is to throw away food that has been out for more than two hours. If it has been sitting out in the sun on a hot day, the bacteria growth is even faster and you have cut the safe window by half.

MYTH: You can tell if food is spoiled by how it looks or smells.

FACT: If something looks or smells spoiled you can be pretty sure it is. But bacteria is invisible and odorless so before all the chemical reactions that changed the look or smell of your food signaling you that it is spoiled bacteria was already present at a level that could make you sick. Try to follow guidelines safer than the look and smell test.

MYTH: Misting at the grocery store washes the produce.

FACT: That lovely mist in the produce aisle is not a veggie washing machine. It serves no other purpose than to keep the merchandise looking fresh. You must still clean your produce in water and preferably with a soft scrubbing brush.

BONUS: They Mayo Clinic has information-packed page on the causes of food poisoning which details the contaminant, how long before symptoms arrive, the foods affected and how the contamination usually occurs. To learn about the different bacteria, viral and parasitic agents that can cause food poisoning you can reference their food poisoning page.

Looking at the facts above how much of your food poisoning knowledge was based on myths?