From E. Coli contaminated spinach to cantaloupe laced with Listeria, food safety scares always seem to make headlines in mainstream media – even on a national level. Recently, President Obama signed into law the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act, which shifts the focus of safety in our food supply from reactionary to preventative. The growing concern and hype surrounding pathogens in our food stream has given way to food safety urban legends – myths about how we can best protect ourselves from foodborne illness in everyday life.

Myth #1: When it comes to sanitizing, the more bleach, the better!

Mythbuster: Making a solution of one tablespoon of bleach per one gallon of water is strong enough to kill any harmful bacteria that may be lingering on kitchen countertops.

Myth #2: A solution of lemon juice and salt can sanitize a cutting board.

Mythbuster: Skip the lemon juice and salt. Instead, wash your cutting board with hot water and soap followed with a chlorine bleach solution (see Myth #1!).

Myth #3: If I’m going to peel my fruit and veggies, there’s no need to wash them.

Mythbuster: If you don’t wash your produce prior to peeling, any harmful bacteria that tend to be on the outside could transfer to the part you eat. So, always wash your fruits and vegetables under running water before eating, cutting, or cooking.

Myth #4: If I rinse my chicken under cold water, it will remove the bacteria.

Mythbuster: Rinsing poultry can actually cause more harm than good by cross-contaminating other foods and surfaces. Cooking poultry to reach an internal temperature of 165 F is essential to inactivate any harmful bacteria.

Myth #5: Once a hamburger turns brown in the middle, it’s cooked.

Mythbuster: Never rely on visual cues to determine when meat is safe to eat. Instead, rely on a food thermometer. Ground beef should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 160 F.

Myth #6: When a package reads: “Cook in microwave for 5 minutes and let stand for 2 minutes” the “stand time” is a simply a precaution so you don’t burn yourself.

Mythbuster: According to the FDA Food Code, the stand time is a required part of the cooking time as it allows heat to be conducted through the product.

Myth #7: Leftovers are safe to eat until they smell bad.

Mythbuster: Just as visual cues are not reliable, neither is smell. Taste, smell, or appearance of food is not altered by the bacteria, parasites or viruses that cause illness. It’s best to either freeze leftovers or discard those that have been in the refrigerator for longer than 3-4 days.

Myth #8: You shouldn’t put hot food in the refrigerator.

Mythbuster: Put food in the fridge as soon after cooking as possible – and at least within two hours of cooking. The ultimate goal is to keep food out of the “danger zone” between 40 F and 140 F, where bacteria grow most rapidly. So, also make sure your fridge is kept at 40 F or below.

Sharon Palmer


Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitian™ is a writer and author of The Plant-Powered Diet. Over 850 of her articles have been published in national publications, including Prevention, Better Homes and Gardens and Today’s Dietitian. She is also the editor of the award-winning publication Environmental Nutrition and writes for her blog, The Plant-Powered Blog. Her specific expertise is in plant-based nutrition, including Mediterranean, vegetarian and vegan diets. Her second book, Plant-Powered For Life: Eat Your Way to Lasting Health with 52 Simple Steps and 125 Delicious Recipes is now in stores.