Food safety: Fact versus fiction

Over the years we’ve all heard advice related to food safety. Some of this advice is true, but some of it is just plain wrong. Here are some food safety facts versus fiction.

We do what we can to help keep ourselves and our families healthy. We wear our seat-belt in the car and have smoke alarms in our homes. But do we handle our food with the precaution so we don’t get sick?

The Partnership for Food Safety Education has created a quiz that helps us debunk common home food safety myths and recognize safe food handling procedures. Take the below quiz and see how you score:

1. Once a hamburger turns brown in the middle it is cooked to a safe temperature.

2. Plastic or glass cutting boards don’t hold harmful bacteria on their surfaces the way that wooden cutting boards do.

3. We should not put hot food in the refrigerator.

4. Freezing food kills bacteria that can cause food poisoning.

5. We don’t need to wash produce if we peel it.

6. Rinsing chicken with water in the kitchen sink will remove bacteria like salmonella.

7. Locally grown or organic foods will never give people food poisoning.

8. Leftovers are safe to eat, until they smell bad.

Check your answers:

1. No! You can’t look at food and determine whether it is cooked to a safe temperature. The only way to know is to use a food thermometer - ground meat (like hamburger) should be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Any type of cutting board can host harmful bacteria on its surface. Regardless of the type of board, it should be washed and sanitized after each use. Make a sanitizing solution consisting of one tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water, you can use it on counter-tops and other surfaces as well and it will last for a week.

3. You can put hot food directly into the refrigerator. But, a large pot of food like stew or soup should be divided into smaller portions and put into shallow containers for quicker cooling. Remember that food isn’t safe after sitting out at room temperature for more than two hours (one hour if it’s 90 degrees or warmer).

4. Absolutely not. Bacteria can survive freezing temperatures and they continue to multiply when the food is thawed. Cooking food to the proper temperature (and using a thermometer) is the best way to kill bacteria.

5. You should always wash fresh fruits and vegetables before eating, cutting or cooking. Harmful bacteria could be on the outside and your knife or hands could transfer it to the part you eat.

6. No, rinsing poultry won’t remove bacteria. In fact it can spread raw juices around your sink and onto countertops, ready-to-eat food and other surfaces. Bacteria are killed when poultry reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit on a food thermometer.

7. Any food, organic or not, can contain harmful bacteria, either from the growing site or introduced at any point from the farm to our homes. That’s why it’s important to reduce foodborne illness by practicing the four steps: Clean, separate, cook and chill.

8. No, there are all kinds of bacteria, some of which don’t affect the taste, smell or appearance of food. That’s why it’s important to freeze or toss leftovers within three to four days. Remember the motto: “When in doubt, throw it out!”

A good source of knowledge about preventing foodborne illness is the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, which offers a link to learning from your PC or Smartphone.

For more information on preventing foodborne illnesses and other issues of interest to Michigan families, please contact a Michigan State University Extension educator in your area.

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