10 Common Misconceptions About Food Safety
By Gregory Myers, Toptenz, 17 February 2016.
By Gregory Myers, Toptenz, 17 February 2016.
Most Americans have encountered some bacteria at some point in their lives, whether it was acquired from restaurant food or a grocery store, which caused them to claim they later had food poisoning. There are multiple nasty bacteria that can cause this, and there are many misconceptions about how they end up in our food, and what the best ways to avoid them are. To be forewarned is to be forearmed, so here are several misconceptions about food safety and the practices involved that can leave us satisfied, or ruin our day with stomach churning nastiness.
10. Eggs Need To Be Kept Refrigerated
If you’ve ever been to Europe, or you’ve seen a grocery store in a movie set across the pond, you may notice something strange - the eggs are stored at room temperature out in the open. This may be particularly jarring to many Americans, who are used to the idea that eggs must be kept refrigerated at all times in order to keep them safe from bacteria like salmonella. In fact, despite all of our safety precautions, salmonella outbreaks still occasionally happen. However, despite the rest of the world usually opting not to refrigerate their eggs, they don’t have any major salmonella issues because of it.
The reason for this isn’t because the United States or Europe have different eggs from each other - it actually comes down to the washing process, or lack thereof. In the United States, eggs are vigorously washed in an attempt to keep them free from bacteria. This actually removes a natural coating that gives them an incredible protection from bacteria all on its own. Proponents of washing argue that you remove any dangerous bacteria with the original washing, and can keep them safe with refrigeration, while those who don’t wash them argue that it keeps them safe from bacteria just fine that way. This doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything wrong with washing eggs, but there is also no reason to freak out if you are in another country and see them unrefrigerated.
9. The Expiration Labels On Your Food Are Indicative Of The Products Safety
Many people go through their refrigerator and pantry every week or month looking for anything that has passed its expiration date. This is followed by throwing most of it in the garbage, and then running to the store to replace all of the things that are now rotting away. Many people are under the impression that these labels are actually when the food starts to “expire” and is no longer safe to eat. This incredibly wasteful misunderstanding is something the food companies have no desire to dispel - if you throw it out before you finish it, you’ll go buy more and they make more profit.
Now, while the food companies aren’t trying to dispel the misconception, they aren’t lying either. The labels usually give a date as to when the product is “best by” because it’s really about the appearance of freshness. Those dates are decided by the company’s food scientists and marketing experts as the point at which their food starts to deteriorate past how they want it to appear and taste to the consumer. It may be perfectly safe to eat, but they have their brand to consider, and they want everyone to have a consistent experience with their product. Hence, companies will hint that you should throw the food out and buy more when it no longer fits their quality standards.
8. Faking Allergies At Restaurants Is Not Harmful And Gets You What You Want Quicker
In recent days it has become quite common for many people to go to restaurants and fake allergies. For example, these people will tell the server that they are allergic to onions when the truth is that they just really don’t like eating them, and they figure that if they say they are allergic, there is less of a chance of them accidentally putting it on anyway - the dish would then have to be sent back, and remade, so the allergy fakers think they are saving themselves time. There are even some people online who recommend that others do this, suggesting that it doesn’t hurt anyone and is basically a win for everyone. However, the truth is that it not only can be harmful to actual allergy sufferers, but doesn’t really help the faker either.
While it can be an inconvenience to have to send a dish back because it has something you really don’t like on it, telling them that you have an allergy will start an incredibly complicated process in the kitchen that is very time consuming. This process is done rigorously by anyone working in any kitchen you would want to order from, and will slow down service for literally everyone in the store. This is because cross contaminants - possible allergens that could sneak in from other restaurant tools - have to be carefully accounted for, which can lead to an incredible amount of cleaning and scrubbing for just one dish. This epidemic of fakers has led some chefs to caution that it is burning out some kitchens, and making them not spend as much time on the process as they should because it happens so much. This could be dangerous for real allergy sufferers, who will be more than inconvenienced if they eat the wrong ingredient, making fakers very selfish.
7. Making Workers Wear Gloves Keeps Your Food Protected from Germs
Many people think of gloves as the firewall that protects them from people working at a restaurant inadvertently giving people food poisoning. Some customers will even go so far as to ask especially for gloves to be used, thinking that it will ensure they aren’t spending half the day in the bathroom. However, the truth is that gloves are really only as good as the food safety habits of those using them. They can certainly be very useful if a chef or worker cuts their hand and needs to keep it from infecting food, but in normal situations many chefs dislike them - they feel it makes it harder to properly feel the food and do their job.
They can also be problematic because they can lead to a false sense of security. Chefs have reported seeing people in the kitchen who are wearing gloves scratching various parts of their body, and not immediately washing their hands and switching gloves afterwards - the only safe thing to do afterwards, otherwise the gloves are pointless. Chefs have also witnessed people using gloves, but still causing cross contamination anyway, just because of poor food safety practices. This can be especially dangerous when working with various raw meats. Gloves can be a useful tool, but they are only helpful if the person is conscientious about safety in the first place.
6. Produce Is The Least Dangerous Fresh Food In Your Grocery Store
Produce is something that immediately evokes freshness and goodness in our minds - it is also for that reason, the first thing that grocery stores direct us to as soon as we walk in the door. Most of us consider it as the healthiest option available, and rarely consider it as a real threat to our safety. In fact, in a scientific survey, it was found that most Americans considered meat and other similar products a serious possible danger to health, but the vast majority did not consider disease from produce to be a serious issue worth worrying about.
However, according to experts, more disease outbreaks by far have actually been linked to produce than to any form of meat products. Meat is usually thoroughly cooked, and vegetables are often eaten raw. Also, the washing process most people go through with their produce is fairly cursory, and if the food was infected with certain bacteria, a quick wash off will certainly not be enough to keep you protected. Depending on the type of disease you are worried about, using your produce in thoroughly cooked foods can ensure you are safe, but not all potentially harmful bacteria can be destroyed by cooking either. If you are going to eat raw produce, it is best to wash it as thoroughly as possible.
5. Washing Meat And Poultry Is A Good Way To Keep Your Kitchen Safe
An old wives tale that is still commonly passed around, is that you should wash your meat or poultry before cooking it in order to keep it properly “clean.” Many people to this day follow this either for safety reasons or just plain habit, and probably feel that at the very least, all they are doing is adding a little work to the process - and many people don’t mind that possibility if it means less chance of getting sick. However, washing your meat or poultry, according to researchers, is actually much more dangerous than simply cooking it properly. If you wash your uncooked meat, especially chicken, you can easily spread salmonella or other bacteria all over your kitchen, making it very likely someone in your family will touch it and get sick.
On the other hand, cooking the chicken properly and ensuring that it reaches a temperature of 165 degrees at all points, using a calibrated meat thermometer, will effectively kill off all dangerous bacteria completely, and if you put it straight in the pan, you have much less of a risk of causing the spread of dangerous bacteria. While some may stick with it thinking they can manage to keep the germs from spreading while cleaning, there is no point at all. You don’t get any benefit from washing your meat - cooking sufficiently will be more than enough to prevent illness.
4. The Microwaves From Your Microwave Safely Kill All Bacteria
Microwaves are one of the most misunderstood cooking devices in the world. Some people refuse to use them because they are afraid that their food will be contaminated with dangerous levels of radiation, and others think it does something strange to somehow mutate the food. Most of these people don’t understand that microwaves use a different kind of microwave than the one they are thinking of. These misconceptions have also led some people to think that they don’t need to worry about getting their food to proper temperatures throughout after a run through the microwave, because the radiation will kill anything dangerous.
This is an erroneous assumption and could lead to dangerous food poisoning. All microwaves can do is make your food hotter - the heat itself is the only thing killing germs - and microwaves are actually notorious for cooking food extremely unevenly. Experts actually recommend using food thermometers and checking various spots on the food when using a microwave, in order to ensure you avoid any food poisoning issues. Most microwave meals now contain similar instructions, for their own legal protection and to avoid consumer complaints. The truth is that microwaves are perfectly safe in terms of radiation, but they are also not a magic box that will destroy all bacteria.
3. You Are Rolling The Dice With Your Fate When You Eat Uncooked Sushi
When many Americans are first introduced to sushi, they think of it as “raw fish” and many people are concerned that what they are eating is not safe. Some Americans, even after eating for a while, seem to have a misunderstanding that they are doing something fairly dangerous by eating uncooked fish. This has made it popular, especially among young people who like to latch onto anything that may be considered reckless, but the truth is that the process for serving and preparing sushi is actually both regulated and quite safe. The truth is that unless fish has first been put through a deep freeze in order to kill all possible parasites within the fish, it is illegal to serve. Now, like all rules this doesn’t mean it is perfectly followed.
Sometimes, there have been concerns that the restaurant will think the deep freeze has already been taken care of, when the wholesaler was leaving it to the restaurant to take care of. However, truly conscientious restaurant owners will only accept fish that is already in a deep frozen state, and have proper freezer storage to maintain it at a safe temperature regardless. Some of these sushi shop owners have reported hardly being able to tell a difference between formerly frozen and fresh sushi themselves, showing that shop owners can have safe food without their customers knowing the difference.
2. The Misting Machines In The Produce Section Of The Store Are There For Food Safety
Many people are under the impression that the misting machines in the produce section that constantly spray water on the vegetables are there to keep the food clean and protect it from germs, but this is not the point of them at all - to actually stand a chance of removing germ build-up, it would need to be a vigorous wash. The truth is that the machines are there for two other distinct reasons, and both are there to maximize the profitability of the fresh produce. The first is that it simply makes the produce look a lot better, which makes people more likely to buy it. Produce can also dry out while sitting out for a time, and spraying it with water can help keep it rehydrated and fresh for when you buy it.
These misting machines, while nice, can actually counter-intuitively be dangerous for people in terms of safety. Years ago, some misting machines from a grocery stores produce section were linked to an outbreak of legionnaire’s disease - it was spreading partly by the actual water vapour in the air. This led some stores to temporarily suspend their use, while others took the time to ensure there machines were kept properly cleaned from then on, in the hopes such a thing would never occur at their place of business. It shows that any machine that interacts with food, even if it doesn’t come into direct contact with people, needs to be cleaned and inspected regularly to prevent outbreaks of serious diseases.
1. It Is Dangerous To Use A Wooden Cutting Board For Meat Because Of Bacterial Build-Up
There has been a lot of advice spreading around internet cooking circles about cutting boards, and what is the proper board to use for each particular job. The debate, as many on the internet go, has become quite contentious, and focuses on the unique properties of wooden cutting boards. While all chefs would agree you should have separate boards for different tasks due to cross contamination, many believe that wooden cutting boards are either the best or worst thing ever when it comes to handling raw meat. The reasoning behind one side is the long believed claim that wood has natural anti-bacterial properties. This of course led many chefs to believe that wooden cutting boards were therefore perfect for dealing with any kind of poultry or similar products.
However, this has been debunked, and a new movement in the opposite direction has given rise to the suggestion that wooden cutting boards are actually dangerous. They claim that the grains within wood can hold onto bacteria for hours, trapping them before they finally die. While there is some truth to this, since the bacteria are trapped in the wood they actually cannot transfer to the food, and due to their isolation, they don’t live particularly long. Essentially both sides are over-exaggerating their cause. Wooden cutting boards can be safe for any food, but just like all food related tools, this is only the case if they are properly cleaned and maintained.
[Source: Toptenz. Edited. Top image added.]