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Getting to the Root of Common Food Safety Myths

You dig deep in your pocketbook and comb grocery stores to find foods you think are fresh and safe to eat. But all foods — regardless of the way they were produced — need to be handled and stored properly to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illness, according to the nonprofit Partnership for Food Safety Education.

The Partnership for Food Safety Education, in cooperation with its partners the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released its new Home Food Safety Mythbusters.

The four myths are presented with the facts needed to know to help reduce the risk of foodborne illness:

  • Myth: Freezing foods kills harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning.

    Fact: Bacteria can survive freezing temperatures.  Freezing is not a method for making foods safe to eat.  When food is thawed, bacteria can still be present and may begin to multiply. Cooking food to the proper internal temperature is the best way to kill harmful bacteria. Use a thermometer to measure the temperature of cooked foods.

  • Myth: I eat a vegetarian diet, so I don’t have to worry about food poisoning.

    Fact: Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet, but like other foods they may carry a risk of foodborne illness.  Always rinse produce under running tap water, including fruits and vegetables with skins and rinds that are not eaten.  Never use detergent or bleach to wash fresh fruits or vegetables as these products are not intended for consumption.  Packaged fruits and vegetables labeled “ready-to-eat” or “washed” do not need to be re-washed.

  • Myth:  Plastic or glass cutting boards don’t hold harmful bacteria on their surfaces like wooden cutting boards do.

    Fact:  Any type of cutting board can hold harmful bacteria on its surface.  Regardless of the type of cutting board you use, it should be washed and sanitized after each use.  Solid plastic, tempered glass, sealed granite, and hardwood cutting boards are dishwasher safe. However, wood laminates don’t hold up well in the dishwasher.  Once cutting boards of any type become excessively worn or develop hard-to-clean grooves, they should be discarded.

  • Myth:  Locally-grown, organic foods will never give me food poisoning.

    Fact: Any food, whether organic or conventional, could become unsafe with illness-causing foodborne bacteria at any point during the chain from the farm to the table.  Consumers in their homes can take action to keep their families safe.  That is why it is important to reduce your risk of foodborne illness by practicing the four steps: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.

The Partnership introduced the Home Food Safety Mythbusters series in September, 2009, as part of its outreach to consumers, food safety educators and the media on the importance of safe food handling to good health.

“The Partnership wants all consumers- regardless of their dietary choices — to feel confident that they’re informed on the risks of foodborne illness, and prepared to protect themselves by handling and preparing food safely.” said Shelley Feist, the Partnership’s executive director.

Free downloads about these food safety myths, including a PowerPoint presentation, teacher materials, and other consumer-friendly tools, are available for at www.fightbac.org.