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Busting summer food myths

Jul 1, 2012 8:24am
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(NECN/WRC: Liz Crenshaw) - Summertime goes hand in hand with eating outside... which can be risky business when it comes to food safety.  

Diane Van with the U.S. Department of Agriculture helped bust some food safety myths:  

The most common myth?  Mayonnaise-based salads left unrefrigerated can make you sick.  

"Mayo is not the problem... they are acidified and pasteurized. It's the food you put them on that support bacterial growth," Van said.  

So treat mayonnaise salads like any food... Refrigerate after two hours, one hour if it's hot weather. Want more time? Put your picnic foods on ice.  

Food safety myth no. 2: One should never cook directly on public grills.  

"Well that's not true," Van said.

"As long as you clean before you use it there's no reason why you can't use a public grill or your home grill if it's dirty. The best way is to heat the charcoal or the gas up and make sure it gets to about 500 degrees and that will burn any dirt or soil off the grill and then you take and then you can take a brush or some foil and you can just clean your grill."   

Another common myth: One should wash meat and poultry before cooking. False. In fact, bacteria in raw meat and poultry juices can splash and spread to other foods, utensils and surfaces if you rinse before cooking.  

Next myth: Grilled foods increase the risk for cancer.  

"Grilled foods are safe in moderation and certainly you want to avoid charring on any of the meat according to the National Cancer Institute," Van said.   

One can prevent charring by cutting the fat off of raw meat and poultry before grilling. Use indirect heat when grilling. And if the food chars, cut it off before eating.  

Here's another myth: One can tell when food is cooked by looking at it.

"Not true... one in four hamburgers may look brown and look done but it hasn't reached the safe minimum internal temperature. The only way to tell for sure is to use a food thermometer and make sure it reaches 160-degrees," Van said.

Myth: Plastic or glass cutting boards don't hold bacteria like wooden cutting boards.  

"Not true whether they're plastic glass or wooden... the important thing is to make sure you wash them in hot soapy water," Van said.  

And occasionally one can clean them with a mild bleach solution. But don't fall for the myth: The more bleach you use the more bacteria you kill.  One should only use one tablespoon of bleach to a gallon of water to wash countertops or cutting boards. 

Think freezing food kills bacteria? Wrong. Bacteria can survive freezing temperatures. When food is thawed bacteria can still be present and even multiply.  

Need to put away hot leftovers? Here's the myth: One should never put hot food in the refrigerator.  

"That's not true... it's more dangerous to forget and leave it out longer than two hours... so put it in shallow containers and get it into the refrigerator as quickly as possible," Van said.

So forget the myths and keep food safety facts in mind this summer. It will keep you and your family safe.
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