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Food Safety: 5 Myths That Could Put You at Risk

washing food

As the head cook for my family, I want to make sure the food I serve is not only tasty and nutritious, but safe to eat. And I’m sure you do, too.

As I’ve learned more about keeping food safe, I’ve noticed that there are a few myths out there that are causing many of us to keep dangerous habits. Here are five myths that may be putting you at risk:

1. Leftovers are fine as long as you refrigerate them: Let’s say you’re eating at a restaurant and your meal comes out around 6:30pm. You only eat about half and decide to take the rest home.  By the time you’re done at dinner it’s after 8pm and then after 9pm by the time you get home, and you stick the meal in the fridge to keep it safe.

The problem is that bacteria can start to grow just 2 hours after perishable items are cooked.  So if you’re taking home leftovers from a restaurant or want to save some of the food you put out for a party you threw, consider the 2-hour rule. If you do get the food in the fridge within 2 hours, be sure to enjoy the leftovers within 4 days.

2. If it tastes okay and doesn’t smell, it’s good: Unfortunately, bacteria that are responsible for food poisoning doesn’t have a taste or smell. Get familiar with storage guidelines for various foods, and try to use up (or freeze) items before the time they could go bad. And make sure your fridge is below 40F and your freezer below 0F.

3. As long as you haven’t reached the date on package, it’s okay to eat: Except with infant formula, there are no laws requiring food expiration dates — and most relate to quality, not food safety. That’s why it’s so important to understand proper handling and storage.

“Sell By” dates let the store know how long to sell the product, so it’s best for consumers to buy before this date.  “Best if Used By (or Before)” indicates the timeframe the product will have optimal quality and flavor – it is not a food safety date.  “Use-By” is the last date recommended for using a product and is determined by the manufacturer.

Where things get tricky is when packaged food, like shredded cheese, is opened but not finished. Even though the date on the cheese is 2 months from now, once it’s opened the storage time decreases significantly. To look up your favorite products, go to Still Tasty.

4. You should always wash raw meat and poultry: The problem with washing raw meat and poultry is that their bacteria can spread to areas in your kitchen such as your sink and countertops.  So skip this step even when recipes tell you to do so.

Don’t forget to keep raw meat (and droppings) from other foods in the refrigerator, and cook meat to the right internal temperature.

5. I don’t eat meat, so food safety is not an issue for me: According to a study by the CDC, twice as many foodborne illnesses are due to contaminated produce as to meat and poultry, although the latter kinds are deadlier. The biggest culprit is leafy greens.

So pick produce carefully, wash it with running water (scrub hard produce like zucchini), and dry it off with a clean towel or paper towel.  When it comes to lettuce and cabbage, discard the outer-most leaves where bacteria may breed.  And don’t forget to wash your hands before handing food!

With a little forethought, you can significantly decrease your chance of being one of the 48 million people who get sick every year from foodborne illness.

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