Food safety myths and facts

Early this year the Food and Drug Administration proposed its most sweeping food safety rules change in decades, requiring farmers and food companies to be more vigilant in the wake of deadly outbreaks in peanuts, cantaloupe and leafy greens in 2012.

The FDA estimates the new rules could prevent almost 2 million illnesses annually, but it could be several years before the rules actually deter outbreaks.

Don’t wait. Most cases of foodborne illness in the U.S. occur as a result of improper food handling and preparation in the kitchen.

Learning about common food safety myths can increase your family’s odds of eating safely.

Myth: If it tastes OK, it’s safe to eat.

Fact: Don’t count on your sense of smell, taste and sight to tell if a food is safe. Each year in the U.S., about 48 million people become ill from a foodborne illness and 3,000 die. Why risk getting sick? A “tiny taste” may not protect you. As few as 10 bacteria could cause some foodborne illnesses, such as E. coli.

Myth: If you get sick from food, it is from what you last ate.

Fact: It can take ½ hour to 6 weeks to become sick from unsafe foods. You usually feel OK immediately after eating and become sick later.

Myth: If I’ve never been sick from the food I prepare, I don’t need to worry about feeding it to others.

Fact: A food you can safely eat might make others sick. People with a higher risk for foodborne illness include infants, young children, pregnant women, older adults, people with weakened immune systems and individuals with certain chronic diseases.

A food you can safely eat might make others sick.

Myth: People never used to get sick from their food.

Fact: Many incidents of foodborne illness went undetected in the past.

Symptoms of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are still often blamed on the “flu.” And bacteria have become more virulent. Our food now travels farther — which means more chances for contamination.

Myth: If you let a food sit out more than two hours, you can make it safe by heating it really hot.

Fact: Some bacteria, such as staphylococcus (staph), produce toxins not destroyed by high cooking temperatures.

Myth: If a hamburger is brown in the middle, it has been cooked to a safe internal temperature.

Fact: One out of four hamburgers turns brown before being cooked to a safe internal temperature. Some ground beef patties look done at internal temperatures as low as 135ºF. A temperature of 160ºF is needed to destroy E. coli.

For more info

These resources can help you make sure your family’s food is safe.

• The International Food Information Council Foundation’s A Consumer's Guide to Food Safety Risks

• The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Home Food Safety campaign

• Fight Bac: Partnership for Food Safety Education

Myth: We should be scared of eating almost everything.

Fact: The American food supply continues to be among the safest in the world. Ensuring food safety is a responsibility shared by government, farmers and producers, the food/beverage industry, retailers and consumers.

Do your part!

Althea Zanecosky is a Philadelphia registered dietitian and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Categories: Food & Nutrition