Whether it’s about microwaving, washing bagged greens, using a food thermometer, or refreezing foods, you hear a lot of things about food safety that aren’t true.
But, just in time for September’s National Food Safety Education Month, the non-profit Partnership for Food Safety Education , in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is launching its annual Food Safety Mythbusters, a campaign to correct common misconceptions about food safety.
For 2012 the list of things that aren’t true includes:
Myth: “If I microwave food, the microwaves kill the bacteria, so the food is safe.”
Fact: Microwaves don’t kill bacteria – microwaves generate heat that kills bacteria in foods. Microwave ovens are great time-savers and will kill bacteria when foods are heated to a safe internal temperature. But microwaved foods can cook unevenly because of irregular shapes or variations in thickness. Even turntable-equipped microwave ovens can cook unevenly and leave cold spots where harmful bacteria can survive.
Follow package instructions that call for rotating and stirring foods during the cooking process. Observe any called-for stand times—the amount of time after cooking that microwaved food should stand before it is eaten. Check the temperature of microwaved foods with a food thermometer in several spots.
Myth: “Of course I wash all bagged lettuce and greens because it might make me sick if I don’t.”
Fact: While it’s important to thoroughly wash most fresh fruits and vegetables, if packaged greens are labeled “ready-to-eat,” “washed,” or “triple washed” then the product does NOT need to be washed at home. Pre-washed greens have been through a cleaning process immediately before going into the bag. Re-washing and handling the greens creates opportunities for contamination.
Always handle pre-washed greens with clean hands, and make sure cutting boards, utensils, and countertops are clean.
WATCH a video (FDA) on Safe Handling of Raw Produce and Fresh-Squeezed Fruit and Vegetable Juices.
Myth: “I don’t need to use a food thermometer. I can tell when my food is cooked by looking at it or checking the temperature with my finger.”
Fact: The only sure way to know food has reached a safe internal temperature is to check it with a food thermometer. Color, texture, and steaming can’t confirm that a food is safe to eat. The outside of a food might be steaming hot, but there may be cold spots inside. To ensure that a food is safely cooked, and not overcooked, check it with a food thermometer. Clean your food thermometer with soap and water after each use.
Myth: “I can’t re-freeze foods after I have thawed them – I have to cook them or throw them away.”
Fact: Raw foods such as meat, poultry, egg products, and seafood thawed in the refri gerator, may be safely re-frozen without cooking for later use. Never let raw foods thaw sitting on the kitchen counter. If raw foods are thawed outside of the refrigerator, for example in the microwave or in cool water, they should be cooked immediately. Never re-freeze raw or not fully cooked foods that have been thawed outside of the refrigerator.
More myths busted:
Read the 2011 Mythbusters blog (FoodSafety.gov)
Learn the top 10 food safety myths (FoodSafety.gov)
If you have other food safety questions feel free to contact us at the Hotline (888-674-6854) or online at AskKaren.gov (FDA)
Please continue the discussion on our Facebook page.
No ants, no bees, no food poisoning! What better way to celebrate a beautiful summer day than with a picnic outside at the park, at the beach or even in your own backyard. Here are some tips to keep your picnic perfectly safe:
Plan ahead so you don’t forget essential items such as a food thermometer, cooler chest with ice, plenty of clean utensils, storage containers for leftovers, paper towels, and trash bags. Find out ahead of time if you’ll have running water, grills, picnic tables, and trash receptacles at the site.
In preparation for your picnic, don’t thaw meat on the counter overnight—that’s not safe. Thaw food in the refrigerator or cook from the frozen state. Cooking frozen meat or poultry will take approximately 50% longer than the recommended time for fully thawed or fresh meat and poultry. Don’t partially cook meat and poultry ahead of time. That can be risky. It’s safest to cook meat and poultry to a safe internal temperature at the picnic.
For a worry-free picnic, place perishable foods, such as hot dogs, burgers, poultry, deviled eggs, and macaroni or potato salads in a well-insulated cooler with plenty of ice or freezer gel packs. They need to be kept cold.
When you arrive at the picnic site, the first task is to wash your hands before preparing food. If running water is not available, use disposable wet wipes or hand sanitizer to clean your hands before and after touching food.
Don’t leave foods out in the sun. At the picnic, keep the cooler in the shade. Serve food quickly from the cooler and return it fast. In hot weather, above 90F, food shouldn’t sit out of the cooler over an hour.
Cook meat and poultry to a safe temperature as measured with a food thermometer. Just because a hamburger looks done on the outside doesn’t mean it is done on the inside. Use your food thermometer to be sure!
Serve food items from the grill on a clean platter. Don’t use the same plate and utensils for cooked food that were used for the raw food. Use a clean plate and utensil set for cooked food.
Don’t forget to unpack that cooler as soon as you return home. Refrigerate leftover meats and salads which have stayed cold; discard if they have become warm.
- Barbecue and Food Safety (USDA)
- The Big Thaw—Safe Thawing Methods (USDA)
- Eating Outdoors, Handling Food Safely (FDA)
- Pack a Family Picnic! PDF (299k)(USDA)
The good news is that the National Weather Service says that competing climate factors suggest a less active hurricane season this year compared to many in recent years. The bad news is that it doesn’t take a hurricane to knock power out. Spring and summer storms often do it very effectively.
But, even when the power goes out, your refrigerator and freezer can help you and your family avoid food poisoning, but only if you are ready for the emergency and know how to react.
- Make sure that you have appliance thermometers in both the refrigerator and the freezer. That’s the best way to be sure that your food is safe after a power outage. Safe temperatures are 40°F or lower in the refrigerator, 0°F or lower in the freezer.
- If there are warnings of a severe storm on the way, freeze water in one-quart plastic storage bags. They are small enough to fit in around the food in the refrigerator and freezer to help keep food cold and won’t make a mess when the ice melts. Don’t fill them too full or they might split because water expands when it freezes.
- Know where you can get dry ice or block ice.
- Be sure to have a few days’ worth of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or cooling
When the Power Goes Out
- Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.
- A refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if the door is kept closed.
- A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full). If your freezer is not full, group packages so they form an “igloo” to protect each other.
- Place meat and poultry to one side or on a tray so if they begin thawing their juices will not get on other foods.
- If the power is going to be out for a long time, buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.
When Power Comes Back
- Check the temperature inside of your refrigerator and freezer. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or leftovers) that has been above 40°F for two hours or more.
- Check each item separately. Throw out any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture, or feels warm to the touch.
- When in doubt, throw it out.
- With frozen food, check for ice crystals. The food in your freezer that partially or completely thawed may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40°F or below.
- Never taste a food to decide if it’s safe .
See these charts to help you evaluate specific foods
- Refrigerated Foods: When to Save and When to Throw Out
- Frozen Food and Power Outages: When to Save and When to Throw Out
For more information about food safety in an emergency, check out these resources:
- What Consumers Need to Know About Food and Water Safety During Hurricanes, Power Outages, and Floods (FDA)
- In an Emergency (FoodSafety.gov)