The Truth About Food Safety Myths

At some point in time, we’ve all fallen victim to some food safety myths that have lead to us unintentionally eating some gross stuff. Luckily, if you know better, you can do better. The days of eating things off the floor, eating old leftovers, and other seemingly harmless behaviors are soon to be over.

In this article, we’ll be discussing a few of the trickier and lesser-known myths that we’ve thought to be true since our childhood.

The Five-Second Rule

the five second rule is not a real thing
William Gottlieb/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
William Gottlieb/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

This one hurts, but the five-second rule is a lie. Hopefully you’ve realized by now that the floor, counter, etc, is filled with bacteria – and any exposure for any amount of time, is enough to contaminate that unfortunate french fry.

Think about it this way, the likelihood of harmful bacteria living on the surface of your floor is pretty high, so is it even worth taking a chance on it? Just throw it away and get something else. It’s never worth the possible illnesses you could contract.

If Food Looks & Smells Safe, Then It Is

sniffing food does not help determine if its safe to eat
Monika Skolimowska/picture alliance via Getty Images
Monika Skolimowska/picture alliance via Getty Images

You’re doing yourself a huge favor by simply discarding foods that you aren’t 100% sure are safe to eat. There’s no real metric for the sniff test since most bacteria that cause foodborne illness are undetectable by smell or sight.

“Food can look, smell and taste just fine but still contain enough food poisoning bacteria to make you very sick” says Lydia Buchtmann from the Food Safety Information Council. Don’t take any unnecessary risks, this bacteria is invisible to the naked eye and can have serious repercussions upon consumption.

Cake Batter Is Safe

cake batter is not safe for raw consumption
Fox Photos/Getty Images
Fox Photos/Getty Images

While cake batter may not be the most tantalizing option for curing your sweet tooth, the allure of licking the spoon is an ever present temptation while baking. Here’s why you shouldn’t do it though, raw dough can contain bacteria that cause disease.

Uncooked flour and raw eggs are used to make batter, and these ingredients have a small chance of carrying E. coli and salmonella. These germs can cause food poisoning and baking your batter before consumption greatly reduces these risks.

Cross-Contamination

meat can cross contaminate food when not stored at the bottom
Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Most people aren’t aware that raw meat needs to be stored at the bottom of your fridge so that meat juices don’t drip down and cross-contaminate anything it comes in contact with. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), raw and undercooked meat and poultry can contain Campylobacter, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Salmonella, E.Coli, Yersinia, and other bacteria that make you sick.

Take extra steps to prevent cross-contamination by double wrapping your meat, keeping it at the bottom of the fridge, and throwing away old food.

Marinating Food on the Counter is Safe

marinating food on the counter is not safe
Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Food contamination is extremely common because of how easy it is to let your meat fall into the “Danger Zone” (40 °F and 140 °F). Marinating meat on your kitchen counter is a big no-no, according to Foodsafety.gov. Leaving raw meat at room temperature for any extended period of time exposes it to potentially dangerous bacteria.

Always marinate your meat in a sealed container, inside your refrigerator. This allows the marinade to safely tenderize and season the meat without the risk of food-borne pathogens joining you for dinner.

Plastic Cutting Boards Are Safer

wooden cutting boards are safer than plastic
Andia/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Andia/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Consider this one debunked! Choosing a cutting board, whether plastic or wood, comes down to preference. The idea behind plastic cutting boards was that they may be easier to sanitize than their wooden counterparts. However, it’s been found that while this may be true, plastic is a much easier material to scratch. These deep scratches provide a home for bacteria to thrive.

Wooden cutting boards are the classic choice for a reason. While they ultimately serve the same purpose, wooden cutting boards provide more scratch resistant surface, thus giving bacteria fewer grooves to hide within.

Vegetarians Can’t Get Food Poisoning

vegetarians can get sick
Xinhua/Shi Jianxue via Getty Images
Xinhua/Shi Jianxue via Getty Images

We usually associate food poisoning and other foodborne illnesses to improperly cooked or stored meat. This isn’t always the case though, according to the CDC, raw fruits and veggies could contain harmful germs such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria. Fresh produce can be contaminated at any point during its journey from farm to home, including cross-contamination in your kitchen.

As a general rule, the safest produce to eat is cooked, and the next safest is washed. Unwashed and uncooked produce should be avoided.

Leftovers Last Forever

leftovers do not last forever
Brianna Soukup/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Brianna Soukup/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Unfortunately, leftovers don’t last forever. It’s easy to assume it’s safe to eat leftovers because it’s in an air-tight container and kept in low temperatures, but that’s not always the case. According to the Mayo Clinic, Leftovers should be kept no longer than three to four days in the refrigerator. Beyond that, your odds of getting food poisoning increase.

This bacteria that contaminates your food doesn’t typically change the taste, smell or look of your leftovers so it’s often best to err on the side of caution.

Frozen Food is Safe

frozen food myths debunked
John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Your freezer is probably one of the safest places to store most foods for extended periods of time. In fact, according to the USDA, food stored at exactly 0°F is safe to eat indefinitely, as long as there isn’t any fluctuation in temperature.

That sounds crazy but here’s the catch, just because your frozen foods are safe to eat for long periods of time doesn’t mean you’ll want to eat them. Freezer burn covers your foods with frost and pulls its moisture.

Rinsing Raw Chicken

dont rinse raw chicken
Deb Lindsey For The Washington Post via Getty Images
Deb Lindsey For The Washington Post via Getty Images

Rinsing raw chicken in your sink is an awful habit and you should stop immediately. When you rinse chicken in your kitchen sink, you’re spreading dangerous bacteria to everything else it comes in contact with – Including the sink itself and everything within that splash radius.

Raw chicken is notorious for carrying foodborne pathogens like salmonella. The Food Safety and Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), warns against washing chicken in your sink to avoid cross-contamination of your utensils, dishes, and other ingredients.

Raw Cookie Dough Is Fine

raw cookie dough is not safe to eat
Whitney Hayward/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Whitney Hayward/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

There are two main reason you should never indulge in raw cookie dough. The first being that raw eggs used to make cookie dough are uncooked, which means there’s a chance they contain a germ called Salmonella that can cause food poisoning.

The other is raw flour. Since flour is typically a raw ingredient, it hasn’t been treated to kill germs like E. coli. If you absolutely can’t help yourself, Nestle actually introduced a line of raw cookie doughs that are meant to eaten “raw” as the dough is made without raw flour or eggs.

Rinsing Your Hands Is Good Enough

washing hands doesnt mean they're always clean
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Proper hand washing is paramount in the ongoing battle against foodborne pathogens and illnesses. Before, during, and after preparing food, you should be washing your hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds.

The CDC recommends washing your hands whenever possible, however, an acceptable second option would be an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol. They also recommend rubbing the gel on all surfaces of your hands until they’re dry. Please note: Hand sanitizers may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty.

Cooked Food Doesn’t Have Bacteria

cooked food can still have bacteria
Albert Ceolan / De Agostini Picture Library via Getty Images
Albert Ceolan / De Agostini Picture Library via Getty Images

Cooked food is typically safe when kept at the right temperature, but it can still be exposed to bacteria after it’s been cooked. According to the USDA, temperatures between 40 °F and 140 °F are considered a food “Danger zone” since bacteria grows most rapidly in this range of temperature.

If your food has been at room temperature for more than two hours, bacteria could have already grown along with heat-resistant toxins that can’t be killed by cooking. These toxins are called Staphylococcus Aureus.

Rinsing Melons isn’t Important

melons need to be washed before consumption
Yelena AfoninaTASS via Getty Images
Yelena AfoninaTASS via Getty Images

While washing your produce isn’t a foreign concept, did you know that you need to wash your melons as well? Even if you aren’t eating the skin, the surface of your melon may contain harmful bacteria that are passed from the surface to the meat of your fruit when you cut it with your knife.

It’s an easy way to contaminate your food, but washing is an even easier way to prevent it. Most vegetables and fruit that are grown in soil, come in close contact with harmful bacteria.

Thawing Meat on the Counter is Safe

dont thaw raw meat on the counter
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Proper planning is the key to avoiding contamination when thawing your frozen meats. The USDA warns against countertop thawing as it can expose your meat to unsafe temperatures called the “Danger zone” where bacteria rapidly multiply. The safest place to thaw your meat is in your refrigerator – 24 hours for every 5 pounds.

If you don’t have that much time, it’s also safe to thaw meat in cold water. Simply place your meat in a leak-proof package or plastic bag, and fully submerge in cold water. It’s important to change the water every 30 minutes for consistent thawing.

Meat Thermometers are Unnecessary

always use a meat thermometer
David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Some professional chefs have an ability to determine how well a steak is cooked simply by touch. Most of us, however, aren’t chefs so using this method for determining the safety of our food isn’t recommended. Another commonly used method is slicing open your meat and looking at the center.

This isn’t ideal or consistent without training either. To avoid cutting open undercooked meat and cross-contaminating your cutting board, use a meat thermometer. The proper temperature in your meat can be the difference between a wonderful meal or a trip to the hospital.

Fruit and Veggie Bin Isn’t Dirty

fuit and veggie bins in the fridge need to be cleaned regularly
RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images
RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Most people don’t realize that you’re supposed to remove and clean out those fruit and veggie bins every so often. According to a study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of foodborne illnesses are caused by germs on fresh produce.

When you do clean clean your refrigerator, it’s important you clean it thoroughly with soap and water. Quickly wiping it down isn’t effective enough to prevent the contamination of fruits and vegetables you store in your bin.

Rice Won’t Give You Food Poisoning

you can get food poisoning from rice
Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images
Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

Health experts suggest thinking twice about eating leftover rice. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, certain dry foods carry a bacterium called Basillus cereus that produces a toxin when heated and left at room temperature for too long. This toxin is responsible for causing food poisoning.

Cooked rice shouldn’t be left to sit out for more than an hour. To avoid food poisoning, package your rice and store it in the fridge and plan on eating it the next day. Rice shouldn’t be stretched for days after it’s been made.

You Don’t Need To Wash Fruits if You Peel Them

peeling fruit can spread bacteria if you don't wash it
Sergii Kharchenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Sergii Kharchenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images

It’s important to wash all fruits (and vegetables) before you eat them whether they’re being peeled or not. It’s the same basic principle for melons as well, you could be exposing your fruit to bacteria on the skin if you use a knife or peeler to skin your produce.

The National Health Service recommends you check your packaging for a label that reads “Ready to eat”, this verifies your food doesn’t require additional washing. Otherwise, all fruit and vegetables should be washed prior to consumption.

Food Poisoning Is a Short Stomach Bug

food poisoning is not a short bug
Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Food poisoning is often looked at as an all-encompassing term for ingested bacteria that causes mild negative effects. The reality is that different kinds of food poisoning have different symptoms. In fact, eating bad food can sometimes go far beyond causing nausea and vomiting.

The CDC estimates that 3,000 people die annually from foodborne illness. Groups that are more susceptible to foodborne illness include: Pregnant women, young children, older adults, and those weakened immune systems.