Food Safety: Tips and Myths

By Lauryn Gladd

If you’ve ever gotten food poisoning before, you know it’s not fun. I still can’t get myself to go back to a restaurant that I got sick after eating at years ago. Unfortunately, we do not always have control over how our food is prepared, but when we do, it is important to consider food safety. 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food safety refers to “the conditions and practices that preserve the quality of food to prevent contamination and food-borne illnesses.” Overall, learning about food safety is important to keep ourselves from getting sick. How we handle, store, and prepare our food makes all the difference!

One in six Americans get sick from food-borne illnesses (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018). Each year approximately 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 deaths occur in the U.S. from food-borne illnesses (CDC, 2018). Common symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. Severe cases can lead to kidney failure, paralysis, or death. Anyone can get food poisoning, but young people, the elderly, pregnant women, people with AIDS, and people on chemotherapy or immunosuppressant drugs are especially at risk. Most cases result from food contamination by pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, molds, and parasites (Forbes, 2021). 

So how can we prevent ourselves from getting sick? Keep reading to learn some tips and debunk some common myths to keep in mind next time you are cheffing it up in the kitchen.

Tips:

  1. Keep clean

Although it may seem obvious, keeping a clean kitchen is crucial to reducing the risk of spreading germs. Wash countertops and sinks with hot, soapy water and then sanitize surfaces with safe disinfectant sprays. After disinfecting, make sure to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (USDA, 2019).

  1. Separate Raw and Cooked

Prevent cross-contamination by separating raw and cooked meat. Use separate cutting boards, utensils, and plates for raw and cooked food. You should always wash your hands before and after handling raw meat or poultry. Also, immediately discard any packaging that raw meat came in, such as foam trays or plastic wraps (USDA, 2019). 

  1. Cook thoroughly

Time to invest in a cooking thermometer! Check out this chart for safe minimum cooking temperatures for meat, poultry, seafood, and other cooked foods. 

  1. Keep food at safe temperatures

Perishable foods should be refrigerated within two hours. I know it’s sad when you accidentally leave your yogurt on the counter for too long but I promise throwing it away is better than getting sick from it! Check to ensure your refrigerator is set to 40°F or below and your freezer to 0°F or below. Avoid large temperature jumps and always thaw frozen food adequately before cooking. You should thaw food in the refrigerator as opposed to room temperature (Forbes, 2021). 

Myths:

You should wash raw chicken to remove bacteria.

False! In an observational study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it was found that 60% of the participants who washed their raw poultry had bacteria in their sink after washing or rinsing the poultry, and 14% still had bacteria in their sinks even after they attempted to clean or sanitize the sink (USDA, 2019). The participants in the study were tasked with preparing a salad as well, and 26% of participants who washed their poultry transferred bacteria from that raw poultry to their lettuce (USDA, 2019). Overall, washing chicken can spread germs by splashing bacteria onto other food, cooking surfaces, utensils, hands, and clothing. Instead, focus on cooking chicken thoroughly to effectively kill the bacteria present. 

Mold? Just cut off the bad parts and you are good to go.

This depends. If the mold grows on a hard food, like hard salami, hard cheese, or a low-moisture content vegetable (ex: carrot), then you really can just cut around it. However, if the mold grows on a soft food, like bread, yogurt, or fruit, you should throw the whole food away. This is because mold is a fungus and grows hyphae- a network of invisible roots that extends beyond the surface of the food. In reality, the mold you can see only accounts for the reproductive part of the mold called sporangiums. Although some mold is harmless, there are up to 300,000 different types of mold and you never know what you could be getting (What If, 2019). When in doubt, throw the moldy food away, and always check the food surrounding it for contamination. 

Raw cookie dough is the only thing that can give you salmonella.

Sadly, the raw eggs in cookie dough are just one potential source of salmonella. Salmonella is actually the most common bacterial food-bourne illness. Common sources include poultry and eggs, contaminated meat, dairy products, seafood, fresh produce, and even peanut butter. That’s right- even peanut butter can carry salmonella (usually caused by water contamination after the peanut roasting process) (Borrell, 2009). What is important to remember is to control what we can- keep an ear out for product recalls and ensure you cook all your food thoroughly!

For all my cookie-dough lovers out there- 1) I’m with you guys. 2) I’ve included my own recipe for edible cookie dough below!

Mix together the following ingredients:

  • ½ cup almond flour
  • ½ cup oat flour
  • 1 tbsp softened coconut oil
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup mini chocolate chips

Reference List:

Borrell, B. (2009, January 13). How does salmonella get into peanut butter? and can you kill it once it’s there? Scientific American. Retrieved November 11, 2021, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/salmonella-poisoning-peanut-butter/. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, November 5). Burden of foodborne illness: Findings. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 11, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/foodborneburden/2011-foodborne-estimates

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (2021, April 21). Safe minimum cooking temperatures chart. FoodSafety.gov. Retrieved November 16, 2021, from https://www.foodsafety.gov/food-safety-charts/safe-minimum-cooking-temperature. 

Forbes, Adam. (2021). KINE 3400 Food Safety [PowerPoint Slides]. Retrieved from https://educationvirginia.instructure.com/courses/7980/files/1011816?module_item_id=299604 

USDA. (2019). Food Safety and Inspection Service. Washing Food: Does it Promote Food Safety? | Food Safety and Inspection Service. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/washing-food-does-it-promote-food. 

U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2019, July 17). What does food safety mean? ASKUSDA. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/What-does-food-safety-mean. 

What If. (2019, June 30). What Happens If You Eat Mold? [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vIogSJ7kToWorld Health Organization. (2006). Five keys to Safer Food Manual. World Health Organization. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241594639.

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