Whether it’s about raw cookie dough only being a problem for kids or microwaves killing the germs, you hear a lot of things about food safety that are just a little wrong – but a little wrong that can make you sick. However, 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 2013, the myths to be busted are:
MYTH: Only kids eat raw cookie dough and cake batter. If we just keep kids away from these raw products when adults are baking, there won’t be a problem!
FACT: Just a lick can make you sick!
No one of any age should eat raw cookie dough or cake batter because it could contain germs that cause illness. So don’t do it! Whether it’s pre-packaged or homemade, the heat from baking is required to kill germs that might be in the raw ingredients. The finished, baked, product is far safer - and tastes even better! And remember, kids who eat raw cookie dough and cake batter are at greater risk of getting food poisoning than most adults are.
MYTH: When kids cook it is usually “heat and eat” snacks and foods in the microwave. They don’t have to worry about food safety – the microwaves kill the germs!
FACT: Microwaves aren’t magic!
It’s the heat the microwaves generate that kills the germs! Food cooked in a microwave needs to be heated to a safe internal temperature. Microwaves often heat food unevenly, leaving cold spots in food where germs can survive. Kids can use microwaves properly by carefully following package instructions. Even simple “heat and eat” snacks come with instructions that need to be followed to ensure a safe product. Use a food thermometer if the instructions tell you to!
MYTH: When kids wash their hands, just putting their hands under running water is enough to get the germs off.
FACT: Rubbing hands with water and soap is the best way to go!
Water is just part of what you need for clean hands! Washing hands properly is a great way to reduce the risk of food poisoning. Here’s how:
Wet your hands with clean, running water and apply soap. Rub them together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of hands, between fingers, and under nails. Continue rubbing for at least 20 seconds. Sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice to time yourself! Rinse hands well under running water. Dry your hands using a clean towel, paper towel, or an air dryer.
MYTH: My kids only eat pre-packaged fruits and veggies for snacks because those snacks don’t need to be washed before they eat them.
FACT: Read your way to food safety!
Giving your kids healthy snacks is a big plus for them! But just because produce is wrapped, it doesn’t always mean it’s ready to eat as is. Read the label of your product to make sure it says: “ready-to-eat,” “washed,” or “triple washed.” If it does, you’re good to go! If it doesn’t, wash your hands and then rinse the fruits or vegetables under running tap water. Scrub firm items, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush. Dry with a clean cloth towel or paper towel to further reduce germs that may be present.
WATCH a video on Safe Handling of Raw Produce and Fresh-Squeezed Fruit and Vegetable Juices
It’s tailgate season, are you ready for the kick off? Planning is the key to keeping your food safe during a tailgate so get your gear ready now. Do you have enough coolers, and all the tools you need to cook? In addition to a grill and fuel for cooking make sure you don’t forget your most valuable player, the food thermometer. It’s the only way you can be sure your meat or poultry has reached a safe temperature.
Don’t sideline your guest, stay in the Food Safety Zone
- Bring water for cleaning if none will be available at the site. Pack clean, wet, disposable cloths or moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces.
- Carry cold perishable food like raw hamburger patties, sausages, and chicken in an insulated cooler packed with several inches of ice, frozen gel packs, or containers of ice.
- Be sure raw meat and poultry are wrapped securely to prevent their juices from cross-contaminating ready-to-eat food. If possible, store these foods near the bottom of the cooler, so that juices don't contaminate other foods in the cooler.
- If you can't keep hot food hot during the drive to your tailgate, plan and chill the food in the refrigerator before packing it in a cooler. Reheat the food to 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer.
- If bringing hot take-out food, eat it within 2 hours of purchase (1 hour if the temperature is above 90 °F).
Know your opponent by defending against bacteria.
Use a food thermometer! Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast on the outside. Use a food thermometer to be sure the food has reached a safe minimum internal temperature. Using a food thermometer not only keeps your guests safe from harmful food bacteria, but it also helps you to avoid overcooking, giving you safe and flavorful meat. You can find a chart listing the temperatures by visiting Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures on the FoodSafety.gov website.
Listen to USDA’s podcast for more information to help you with your tailgate game plan
If you have any questions about tailgating food safety, feel free to contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov.
“Aw, Mom, I’ll be fine,” says a teen off to college for the first time when cautioned about handling food safely.
An elementary school student tells his dad not to mention putting the cold pack in his lunchbox. “Don’t bug me in front of my friends,” says the gradeschooler who feels embarrassed. “Charlie’s folks don’t make him keep his lunch cold.”
Strong, healthy students of all ages may feel invincible to becoming ill from food. It may be the “superhero” mentality of video games and movies or just the optimism of youth. After all, if the food looks and smells good, what can be wrong with it?
But anyone can become ill from food that’s not handled safely. Invisible bacteria can fell the “invincible.” And just as Superman can’t see through lead, people can’t see bacteria. For example, unrefrigerated meat sandwiches and pizza left out overnight in a dorm room are a breeding ground for bacteria that double in number every 20 minutes.
That’s one reason the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends following four easy Food Safe Families steps to help avoid foodborne illness when packing lunches for school kids or for college students handling food on their own. Here’s how “Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill” connect with back-to-school food safety. Think of them as a “Fantastic Four.”
Clean: Bacteria are the super hero’s arch enemy. One would think it’s a no-brainer to wash hands before preparing food and before eating it. But have you ever seen a super hero do it? Think of soap as the Green Lantern’s Power Ring. Washing hands is one of the easiest steps, but based on statistics, not washing hands is a major cause of foodborne illness. Peer pressure or not, the first line of defense for students is to wash hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds. No access to water? Pack moist towelettes or a gel sanitizer in a lunch box or bag.
Separate: Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth can restrain a villain from attacking a victim. Accept the quest to keep foods apart when preparing a lunch. Bacteria from raw food can contaminate safely prepared food or food that won’t be cooked, such as raw veggies or salads. Wash insulated lunch totes or boxes with hot soapy water after each use. And don’t reuse sandwich wrappings or paper lunch bags.
Cook: Bombard that meat with heat like the Human Torch. Cooking kills bacteria. When using the microwave oven at college, cover food to hold in moisture and to promote safe, even heating. Follow microwaving directions on frozen convenience foods. Wield a food thermometer like a lightsaber, and test the temperature of the food to make sure it reaches a temperature high enough to kill bacteria. For leftovers, that means heat until the food reaches at least 165 °F (73.9 °C) before eating it.
Chill: Be cool like Iceman. Chilling stops bacteria in their tracks, so keep cold food cold. Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly when perishable food is not refrigerated or being cooked. USDA calls the temperatures between 40 and 140 °F (4.4 °C and 60 °C) the “Danger Zone.” Perishable food transported without an ice source won’t stay safe long. To keep lunches cold, include at least two cold sources (frozen gel packs, frozen juice boxes, or frozen bottles of water). Place them beneath and above the perishable food items. If there’s a refrigerator available, keep perishable items there. Remember the “2-Hour Rule”: never leave food out for more than two hours, or not more than one hour if the temperature is above 90 ºF (32.2 °C). And, if there is any doubt, throw it out!!
Remember, bacteria are an equal opportunity menace that can make anyone sick—including super heroes. At the end of the day, our elementary student related, “Hey, Dad. I guess you were right. Charlie wasn’t at school today. I found out he got sick a few hours after lunch yesterday. Hmm. I guess it’s really important to keep my lunch cold.”