Published on 09/24/09

Home food safety myths busted

By Judy Harrison
University of Georgia

Just because your mother and her mother before her treated food a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the safest way. It’s time to bust some common myths about keeping food safe at home.

Myth: Once a hamburger turns brown in the middle it is cooked to a safe temperature.

Fact: You cannot use visual cues to determine whether food has been cooked to a safe internal temperature. The only way to tell for sure is to use a food thermometer. Ground meats should reach at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Ground poultry should reach at least 165 F.

Myth: Lemon juice and salt will clean and sanitize a cutting board.

Fact: Instead of using lemon juice and salt, to kill bacteria, people should use a solution of chlorine bleach and water. Sanitizing is the process of reducing the number of microorganisms that are on a properly cleaned surface to a safe level, reducing the risk of foodborne illness. The most effective way to do this is with a solution of unscented chlorine bleach and water. To clean and sanitize a cutting board, first wash it with hot, soapy water and rinse. Then prepare a solution of 1 tablespoon chlorine bleach per gallon of water or 1 teaspoon of chlorine bleach per quart of water. Let the bleach solution stand on the surface for at least one minute, either by spraying it on or immersing the board in the solution. Allow the board to air-dry or dry it with a clean paper towel.

Myth: You should not put hot food in the refrigerator.

Fact: Hot food can be placed directly in the refrigerator. A large pot of soup or stew should be divided into several smaller portions in shallow containers for quicker cooling in the refrigerator. Bacteria can multiply rapidly when foods are left at room temperature for more than two hours. Always follow the two-hour rule, and refrigerate perishable foods at 40 F or colder before it expires. If the food is left out where temperatures are 90 F or hotter, refrigerate foods after an hour.

Myth: Putting chicken in a colander and rinsing it with water will remove bacteria like salmonella.

Fact: Rinsing poultry will not remove all the bacteria. In fact, rinsing can spread the raw juices around your sink, onto your countertops and around your kitchen. Cross-contamination can then be a problem. Other foods can become contaminated with bacteria when they come in contact with these juices. Thorough cooking kills bacteria. Bacteria in raw meat and poultry are killed when the food is cooked to a safe internal temperature. Cook poultry until the internal temperature reaches at least 165 F. Save yourself the messiness of rinsing.

To keep your food safe, remember these steps: clean, separate, cook and chill. That’s a fact!

(Judy Harrison is a food safety specialist with University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.)

April R. Sorrow is a science writer with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.