6 Common Food-Safety Misconceptions

Since health officials seem to have very little idea about the source of the recent salmonella outbreak, perhaps it’s wise to educate ourselves a little more on the basics of food safety. Test your knowledge with Forbes’ list of some common food-safety misconceptions. The list, inside…

The misconceptions:

“You can wash it all off”
Sometimes the contamination is within. With veggies like raw bean, alfalfa, clover or radish sprouts, it is possible that the seeds have been contaminated.

“Local means safe”
According to the scientific director of the Food Safety Network at KSU, “It’s more important to ask whether a farm is located near a high concentration of wildlife, what type of fertilizer is used, what water source is used and how often it is tested and what hygiene practices were used during the harvesting, storage and transportation processes.”

“Fruits and vegetables are safer than meat products”
Because fruits and vegetables are often uncooked, anything they into contact with could contaminate them.

“A meat thermometer isn’t necessary”
Instead of guessing, experts recommend a meat thermometer to be sure.

“Cooking kills everything”
You knew that proper cooking protects you against botulism and mad cow disease, right? Wrong, it doesn’t.

“Food left out is harmless”
According to the USDA, foods such as meat, poultry, eggs and casseroles should be discarded if left at room temperature for more than two hours. If it’s 90 degrees or hotter, then one hour.

For more delicious factoids, check out 8 Common Foodborne Illnesses And Their Symptoms.

In Depth: Top Food-Safety Misconceptions [Forbes]
(Photo: Meggito)

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. homerjay says:

    Who in their right mind would think that food left out is safe?

  2. Chairman-Meow says:

    Its nice to know that our overlords at Consumerist HQ keep their Kittehs in the fridge in order to reduce spoilage.

    There is nothing worse in universe than a spoiled cat. We let our Kitteh out of the fridge and now you can smell the spoilage every time he demands us to give him belly rubs.

  3. Elhigh says:

    I never assume food from my own garden is safe. The only upside there is I know what chemicals were used (none). Beyond that, everything gets rinsed, usually twice.

    Food left out is safe? WTF? That’s crazy.

  4. Mira Mi Huevo!!! says:

    I think we will finally be safe if we start eating “SOYLENT GREEN”… Come on people get with the program!!!

  5. friendlynerd says:

    How is this helping? Numbers 1, 2, 3, and 5 on this list are beyond anyone’s control. It boils down to “nothing is safe! fear for your lives!”

  6. chiieddy says:

    That kitteh looks like mine and mine isn’t allowed in the fridge, except on alternate Thursdays.

  7. ne1butu says:

    I think letting kitties walk on countertops and in the fridge isn’t all that safe either. That is, unless you like litterbox tainted food.

  8. I don’t think that cooking food keeps me safe from mad cow disease; I know that the extreme unlikelihood of the meat containing that disease keeps me safe from it (regardless of what the hysterical media would have us believe).

  9. serreca says:

    @homerjay: You don’t know anyone who eats pizza that’s been left out for a while? I know a guy who leaves leftover pizza out all night and eats it for breakfast. Gross.

  10. MeOhMy says:

    What foods I eat after being “left out” depends on what the food is and what the conditions are.

  11. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @serreca: We did this about three times a week in college and nobody ever got sick. An average pizza is very dry, oily, and salty.

  12. mk says:

    @serreca: Pizza is the exception to every rule.

  13. stacye says:

    Cool.. I was wondering what I should panic about this week. Now I don’t have to read Drudge Report.

  14. Roxie says:

    @homerjay: one of my aunts? Lol…she used to leave her food out on the tables, with nothing more than some kind of tiny mesh…tent…thingie on top of each dish, presumably to keep flies and other bugs away from them. We tried to eat as little as possible at her house–everything tasted weird because she was leaving everything out in the open and didn’t seem to believe in refrigeration. x_x Not necessarily spoiled, but weird. I think that food just tastes different when it’s left out in the open and left uncovered, without a proper lid or covering of some kind on top. Blech. :(

  15. Numerous says:

    I ordered a Steak Tartare appetizer at a work function once. My coworkers freaked about it, so I didn’t have to share. :-)

  16. inno says:

    When they say to discard meat left out for over 2 hours, I assume they mean raw meat. Although there is definitely a perception in the US that as much of the Earth’s surface should be Lysol’d as possible, so you never know. I regularly leave cooked meat out for 24 hours. It’s too hot to put in the fridge when I finish cooking at night, and I often forget to do it before I go to work in the morning. I am yet to experience any digestive discomfort, let alone food poisoning.

  17. PsychicPsycho3 says:

    There are people out there who don’t eat leftover pizza for breakfast?

    Oh strange new world, with such people in it.

  18. Tallanvor says:

    @ne1butu: I used a spray bottle to give my cats a squirt if they were caught on the counter!

  19. MrWashy says:

    I had a roomie who loved his turkey. About every two months he’d make a (really good!) turkey dinner. Then he would leave the remains of the turkey on the table or counter for about 3 days picking the leftover meat off the bones of the thing. He refused to refrigerate it for some unspecified reason. I’m amazed he made it out of college without a disease.

  20. sir_eccles says:

    Number 7 – All my chopping boards and washing up liquids are “anti-bacterial” so I’m safe?

    Wrong!

    I hate the proliferation of those “anti-bacterial” things. It’s a false sense of security. If you really do want to disinfect, boiling water and chlorine bleach.

    Personally I’m all in favor of having a bit of dirt around so you have some sort of natural resistance to illnesses.

  21. I can has expired salza?

  22. Brandon says:

    @inno: Reading your comment made me throw up a little bit in my mouth. I hear countless stories of food poisoning in fast food restaurants and they are perfect compared to some of these comments.

  23. rlee says:

    Oh, hi! Just, uh… checking for mice.

  24. queenofdenial says:

    @Troy F.:
    What foods I eat after being left out depends on how hungry I am. Which is usually hungry enough. And lazy enough.

  25. Shutaro says:

    Refrigerator cat is not sanitary!

  26. Legal_Eagle_In_Training says:

    Most of these seem like good ol’ common sense to me. Not saying that I always follow them…

    Which reminds me, do people still go by the 5 second rule, or is it just me?

  27. crabbyman6 says:

    @sir_eccles: exactly my sentiment on the matter. A little will help you build up antibodies and keep your immune system cranked up in case of a full fledged infection. All this anti-bacterial crap is just promoting evolution of the bacteria, same as if you don’t take all the antibiotics you’re prescribed.

    You know that 1% your lysol left behind, well now its got the gene it needs to resist lysol and when it reproduces you’ll now have two lysol resistant bacteria, then 4, then 16….well I can’t count that high, but you get the picture.

  28. forgottenpassword says:

    @serreca:

    Yeah I’ve done that tons of times….. never gotten sick from it. Same with like …an arby’s roast beef, hamburger etc etc. However they are always kept in some kind of sealed container (like a closed paper fast food bag) because i dont want bugs touching it. Sometimes microwave reheated fast food (after its been in a cold fridge) ruins it.

  29. Murph1908 says:

    @Tallanvor:
    I tried that with my cat, trying to keep her off my coffee table. It worked for a while.

    Then one day, she jumped up there, and I sprayed her. She didn’t budge. I sprayed her in the face, she shook it off and stared me down. I gave her 3 more sprays right to the face, and she held her ground.

    It was at that time I realized she wanted to be on that coffee table a lot more than I wanted her down.

  30. bobpence says:

    Irradiate everything!!!! Mwa ha ha ha ha!

  31. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    @Shutaro: FRIDGE INSPEKTOR FINDS EVRYTHNG IN ORDER KTHX

    (that was painful)

  32. cwlodarczyk says:

    @inno: This kind of idea is exactly why most people need a list like this.

    There is no such thing as a food being “too hot” to be refrigerated. The whole myth about not placing hot foods in the fridge started a looong time ago when refrigerators (or perhaps iceboxes) weren’t efficient enough to face the task of cooling a very hot item.

    On top of that, cooked meat is actually more dangerous than raw – though the article points out that cooking doesn’t kill everything, it’s important to know that it DOES kill some pathogens while a piece that has been cooked previously will receive no further heating and thus no further treatment against bacteria.

    A further note: while most healthy adults will survive contact with adulterated food (whether they know they’ve eaten it or not), those who say “well, *I’ve* never gotten sick from…” are just lucky. If you continue the same patterns you WILL eventually pay a price.

    [my bona fides: 20yr restaurant veteran, now doing private health inspections and food safety training]

  33. Daemon_of_Waffle says:

    @bobpence: Irradiated Cat?

  34. cwlodarczyk says:

    FYI to all those who claim to have never had any kind of food poisoning: It’s very likely you HAVE been sick and not known it.

    You know that 24hr flu that we all get from time to time? Well, there’s no such thing – this is actually your body’s response to food poisoning. Go ahead, take a minute to think about this, I’ll wait.

  35. Daemon_of_Waffle says:

    @cwlodarczyk: Or it might be that dose of epsom salt, or milk of magnesia I took after lunch. Hmmm…

  36. Kay Bee says:

    i thought mad cow is a malformed prion protein, why would one be in a plant? can someone explain how the cow brains got on my vegetables?!

  37. Wally East says:

    @cwlodarczyk: A few years ago, I realized all those times as a kid I would wake up at night puking and then feel okay the next day: food poisoning. I still haven’t let my parents off the hook for that. My mom routinely defrosted meat on the counter and I’m sure that was the culprit.

  38. mac-phisto says:

    @homerjay: seriously though, 1 or 2 hours? think of holiday meals where the feasting often lasts well into the nite (& it may take that long just to get the energy to get up from the table).

    i admit, i’m the type to eat leftout pizza without a thought, but i think these guidelines are a little OCD.

  39. witeowl says:

    My parents grew up in Germany during WWII and developed cast iron stomachs out of necessity. My mother regularly leaves the leftovers from dinner out, uncovered, on the counter overnight and slowly snacks on it until the next afternoon. My father will heat up canned soup, put the lid on, and leave it on the stove for a day or two before reheating and finishing.

    They are regularly astonished and amused at my apparent food/germ paranoias. But I’ve gotten food poisoning too often to take any chances. I blame my cushy childhood.

  40. cwlodarczyk says:

    @Daemon_of_Waffle: I suppose it *could* be. Are you advocating that we don’t bother with something so controllable?

  41. cwlodarczyk says:

    @Kevin V: One word: Manure.

  42. FLConsumer says:

    @chumia40: Eating of one’s own kind is the source of CJD/Mad Cow. There’s also a human form of it that’s found in Africa where some tribes believe in eating the brains of their just-departed elders, in hopes of “passing down” the knowledge. Too bad they’re developing holes in their brains due to the human form of CJD wearing it away.

    Still not sure why cattle ranchers ever thought it was a good idea to feed cows dead cows, sick dead cows at that.

  43. Robert_SF says:

    As for food left out for 1-2 hours being thrown out:

    Don’t some countries/cultures sell raw eggs which are stored in the general food areas, not in the refrigerated section?

    I believe the concern expressed about the leaving of some food at room temp for 1-2 hours is valid. How often are thanksgiving meals left on the table or in the kitchen counter during clean up when people return for a second round (mmmm…second round!)? I don’t remember anyone having trouble with that, including young-ins, the elderly, or the immune supressed…

  44. MameDennis says:

    @FLConsumer:
    That would be kuru, which for reasons that now escape me we found hysterically funny in high school biology.

    On the whole putting-hot-food-in-the-fridge topic… it’s true that you shouldn’t have a problem with modern fridges, but the fridge in my apartment is older than I am. If I have something like a batch of homemade soup to put away, I’ll put the hot vessel in a cool water bath until it’s room temperature. It doesn’t take long, and it’s waaay better for my peace of mind than leaving it out on the counter.

  45. rachelrob says:

    This is why I don’t eat anymore.

  46. thesabre says:

    @cwlodarczyk: You mean to tell me that norovirus is a myth? There IS such a thing as a 24-hour stomach bug that isn’t food poison-related. Maybe you meant to say that the majority of cases may be related to foodborne illness, but to say that stomach bugs don’t exist is bull-dookie.

    Another tip for Consumerists to keep from cross-contaminating food:
    I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone to someone’s house and they use the same cutting board for meat and vegetables. Use a plastic cutting board for meat and a wood cutting board for veggies. Do not use the same board and do NOT use wood for meat.

    And then there is that whole “put meat on the bottom of the fridge” issue that I always thought was common sense. But then I see someone’s fridge with raw chicken on the top shelf and things like yogurt or fruit on the shelf under it. Gross.

  47. vision4bg says:

    In Australia eggs are sold unrefrigeratored, and I’ve never had a problem.

  48. Gopher bond says:

    I wonder whether you’d be more immune to a local version of contamination over a foreign version. Is it possible for people to be more immune to say, a local version of e.coli, versus a strain from a farm thousands of miles away?

    If so, you might be able to assume local is safe-ER, which would mean something but still, I wouldn’t assume ALL local is safe. That’s just stupid.

  49. chrisjames says:

    @testsicles: Only if you were infected substantially over time with the local strain, and if it didn’t kill your immune system in the process.

    Isn’t the “eat local, build immunity” concept just for allergens though? Even then, is it more than just myth? It’s my understanding that constant exposure to allergens, toxins, and contaminants can sometimes strengthen your immunity to them, but it can also sometimes make you much more susceptible, i.e. develop allergies.

  50. formergr says:

    @vision4bg: Same in France and Germany.

  51. formergr says:

    @chrisjames: My Dad used to travel to India about 6 times a year, and at first would get sick if he drank the local water. So he stuck to bottled, but over time that became a pain, so he started to slowly drink local water here and there (for example at a client’s house, not wanting to be rude), and got to the point where he didn’t get sick ever. Fast forward to years later when he would only go every other year, and he said if he had some water then, he got sick again.

    So maybe there is some truth to your theory? ie. his body built up resistance to the local pathogens in the water where he was visiting, but when he stopped going for a while, he lost the resistance??

  52. chrisjames says:

    @formergr: That may be the mineral content in the water that does it, but I’m sure it would be the same type of adaptation. I have a cousin who said the same thing, surprisingly, about the water in India.

  53. cwlodarczyk says:

    @vision4bg: Eggs sit in a nest unrefrigerated as well. As long as the shell isn’t cracked they can last for quite a while.

  54. Domichi says:

    @homerjay: In my school newspaper, they had a question asking students what was the worst thing they’ve ever ate. One student had responded that it was Chinese food that was left out for three days. Worst of all, the student is pre-med. I’d be avoiding his practice if he was practicing near me.

  55. cwlodarczyk says:

    :::sigh:::

    As I stated in an earlier post, I work in the food safety field. With that said, I’m always disappointed when I read the comments on a thread like this.

    The things that are noted in the article aren’t made up. The food safety rules that are contained in the FDA Food Code aren’t arbitrary.

    If you’ve eaten food that has not been subject to proper handling, cooking, storage, or refrigeration and don’t think that you’ve been sick due to it, well, that’s great. Maybe bacteria hadn’t yet had the chance to grow, maybe you have a great immune system, or maybe you were just having a lucky day.

    If you’re part of the crowd who speaks out against these kinds of cautions, by all means please continue to take risks like this that will threaten your health if not your life. The rest of us would really appreciate it if by those actions you’re able to remove your DNA from the gene pool. I invite you to eat all the unsafe food that you like – and help natural selection do what it does best.

    To “thesabre”: Nice work, you found the flaw in the point that I was making, which was that generally speaking those people who believe they have had the 24 hour flu probably had food poisoning instead. Yes, there are other things that can cause similar symptoms, including rare cases of Norovirus. I’m glad that you were able to completely move away from the idea to prove that you were right. BTW, how often do you suppose Norovirus is to blame for those symptoms?

  56. Dinion says:

    What always makes me laugh about these articles is the simple fact that outside of winter we’ve only had the ability to convienently refrigerate food for the past 70-80 years. And that was just the rich folks back at the begining. I’ll admit yes being able to refrigerate/freeze food is great and definetly reduces the overall amount of food borne poisoning, but food thats been left out for a little while more than recommended is nothing to bother freaking out about.

  57. synergy says:

    All this talk about food being left out reminded me of the part in the “Supersize Me” movie where a McDonald’s hamburger and fries were left in a jar and nothing ever grew on them over ten weeks. Mmmm mmmm mmmm.

  58. friendlynerd says:

    @cwlodarczyk:
    I don’t think anyone’s “speaking out” against these cautions.

    My earlier post, for one, pointed out the fact that this article has a lot of fearmongering, stating that you’re screwed no matter what you do. Wash your produce? Great! You still might get sick! Cook your food properly? Tough luck, my friend, you still got mad cow disease!

    Those debating whether food grows bacteria or not when it’s left out…well, that’s another story. Of course it does, and it very well might make a person sick.

    But for the other items on the list stating how there’s effectively nothing you can do short of making careful food selection your full-time job – I think that’s irresponsible, pointless, and stress-inducing.

  59. Coelacanth says:

    All this talk about raw meat, and not one mention about sushi…

  60. celticgina says:

    Food Inspector Cat says to tell Tax Cat that this spoiled food should be tax dedcutible!!

  61. prodevel says:

    *beans

    anything they into contact with

    *anything they come into contact with

  62. MeOhMy says:

    @cwlodarczyk:

    The food safety rules that are contained in the FDA Food Code aren’t arbitrary.

    True, but that does not mean government regulations may be a bit overzealous for the home kitchen. Heck they might be overzealous for the commercial kitchen, but when the consumer is essentially kept in the dark about what’s going on the kitchen it’s not all that silly to maintain tight standards in the hope that minor slips won’t turn into major outbreaks. Most of us would have to drastically change the way we cook and store food if our home kitchens were subject to the same rules and inspections that restaurants were, yet few of us are dying from foodborne illnesses. On the one hand it’s “It won’t happen to me” syndrome, but at the same time the risk coming from some of these practices is low. I worry a lot more about cross contamination than whether the leftovers that sat on the counter for 3 hours will kill me.

    Yes, there are other things that can cause similar symptoms, including rare cases of Norovirus.

    Rare? Norovirus is not rare – it is often described as second only to the cold in frequency of infection. If it comes from contaminated food, it’s food poisoning either way, but it’s so damned infectious that it’s really hard to determine when it came from food and not something else. You tend to blame it on the last thing you ate, but you’ll probably never know.

  63. Kerkira says:

    @Dinion: But they had other means of food preservation, such as drying, smoking, salting, and pickling. And who’s to say that the rate of food poisoning wasn’t higher then, anyway?

  64. AmbroseP says:

    I like how we’re supposed to be wary of botulism while we accept Botox as a cosmetic phenomenon.

  65. Dinion says:

    @kerkira And who do you know that doesn’t keep their pickles in the fridge? hotdogs? And I actually said I am positive that the amount of food poisoning is reduced by refigeration.

  66. usa_gatekeeper says:

    All this in the context of an article I read yesterday wherein the Chinese government just ordered Olympic-related restaurants in Beijing to REMOVE “dog” from their menus for the duration. Not just rename it, but remove it. At least temporarily.

    Hmmm, I probably ate dog in Vietnam and China; I just didn’t know it. I’m still around.

  67. drewB says:

    You’re over-thinking the local line. But the original point misses the big picture.

    Local is MUCH safer when it comes to the big picture. The spinach and tomato scares wouldn’t have been huge ordeals if people ate local, only a few communities would be affected. National food supplies put all our eggs in one basket. Local sources keeps transmission lower.

  68. welsey says:

    @vision4bg: Same in the UK. Just refrigerate them once you get them home, although I’ve kept mine out then too. Doesn’t really seem to matter although no one could answer why this is common practice there but totally unusual in the states!

  69. MauriceReeves says:

    I’d love to add one more that I still see, though thankfully not as often. You really don’t need to cook pork to an internal temperature of 180 degrees. 150 – 160 is just fine. Trichinosis dies at 145 degrees and salmonella at 130 degrees. It is okay to see a blush of pink in the center of a pork roast.

    That drives me nuts, fighting that battle all the time with my in-laws who want their steaks tough as leather and their pork cooked until they resemble a shriveled chew toy.

  70. pollyannacowgirl says:

    Personally, I think a good immune system goes a long way.

    I’ll eat lots of things that lots of people would not. The only times (3 in 37 years) I’ve gotten sick from food in my 37 years were from a “reputable” restaurant.

    Which is not to say that I think I’m invincible, but I have a healthy constitution and iron stomach. Probably from exposure to lots of bacteria that didn’t kill me. Lots of probiotics, too.

    The more beasties you withstand, the more you’ll be able to. Or something like that.

  71. varro says:

    @thesabre: That’s one big reason why fast-food restaurants don’t often fail inspections – there’s standardization in what food goes where. Many, many violations in other restaurants are because people put meat above vegetables, baked goods, or other foods.

  72. drjayphd says:

    I thought it was Punday, not Caturday.

    (hey, I’ve been working all day, give me a break)

  73. mermaidshoes says:

    @Shutaro: but he is so cute!

    my question has always been, how long can you refrigerate something (leftovers, mostly) before it goes bad–i.e., when should you fridge vs. freeze? i always put things in the fridge and forget about them and they start to smell funny and i throw them out and say clearly i should have frozen this in the first place BUT then if i freeze things they get all crystally and odd-tasting and i don’t want to eat them anyway. gah. maybe i need one of those vacuum sealers for freezing.

  74. mr mike says:

    Why can’t you eat food that’s been left out. It’s just a little fuzzy. =)

  75. mr mike says:

    Sorry I’m at work and at the mercy of….*shudders* MS Paint

  76. mr mike says:

    @mikel1981:

    Uggg! pic didnt show

  77. mr mike says:
  78. Venarain says:

    Ok, the thing that annoys me is the egg one. Those eggs sat underneath a chicken for at least a day before getting packaged up…so why can’t I leave them on my counter for an hour or so?
    The “cleaner” and safer our food is, the more susceptible our immune systems are to common contaminates, and since so much of our food goes through crazy processing, there is always going to be some chance of contamination. It’s like vaccinating for chicken pox, so you can get it when you’re 30 and end up in the hospital.