Summer is the season when food poisoning is most likely to occur, according to the American Dietetic Association. Since harmful bacteria don't take a vacation, be extra vigilant about preparing, transporting, and serving food this summer. Here are five myths about what's safe, what's not, and how to protect yourself, your family, and your friends from getting food poisoning this summer:
Myth No. 1:Mayonnaise is a major culprit in food-poisoning outbreaks
The truth: Store-bought mayo can actually retard the growth of food-borne bacteria thanks to some of its ingredients, including salt and lemon juice. But many dishes that contain mayonnaise tend to be handled a lot — you add celery or parsley to egg salad and then spread it on bread, for instance — so there are more opportunities for the food to be contaminated.
- Safety tip: Wash and dry veggies before adding them to a salad, use separate cutting boards for meat and produce, and be sure your hands and work surface are scrupulously clean before making sandwiches. Homemade mayonnaise, by the way, does not contain preservatives and should be used only in foods that will remain refrigerated.
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Myth No. 2: You can nuke meat and poultry early in the day and then just put it on the barbie for long enough to get those great grill marks
The truth: Cooling down cooked meat and then reheating it encourages food-borne pathogens like salmonella and E. coli to grow, so don't partially cook meat and then put it in the fridge.
- Safety tip: Transport raw meat to your picnic site in an insulated, well-chilled cooler, take along extra plates so you'll have one for raw foods and another for cooked foods, and discard any used marinade. Be sure to defrost meat in the refrigerator before you leave home, not at the picnic site. When you defrost outdoors in the summer the surface of the meat gets warm enough for harmful bacteria to multiply by the time the inside has thawed.
Myth No. 3: You can tell a burger's done by its color, and brown means it's safe to eat
The truth: Don't count on color. The only way to be certain that harmful bacteria have been destroyed is to take the temperature of whatever you're grilling. (An instant-read meat thermometer costs less than $10.)
- Safety tip: Experts agree that burgers should be cooked until they reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees. According to the latest, recently updated guidelines from the USDA, whole chickens and turkeys as well as pieces and ground poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of no lower than 165 degrees. (The previous guidelines called for temperatures ranging from 165 for ground poultry to 180 for whole birds, thighs, legs, and wings, while the new standard is uniform for all poultry.) The American Dietetic Association, another organization consulted for this story, is updating its recommendations to reflect the new USDA temperature guidelines, according to Susan Moores, RD, an ADA spokesperson.
Myth No. 4: You don't need a cooler if you've got an air-conditioned car, and those sandwiches will be fine in the backseat till you get to the beach
The truth: Just because you're happy at 75 degrees doesn't mean your ham and cheese on rye is. In fact, this atmosphere is the ideal breeding ground for harmful bacteria, which multiply rapidly when they're in the temperature danger zone of 40 to 140 degrees.
- Safety tip: Food can safely be kept at room temperature for up to two hours or one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees. That means two hours total, so be sure you count the time the sandwiches sat out in the sun while guests played beach volleyball.
Myth No. 5:Foods packed in a chilled cooler are safe to eat for hours
The truth: Foods that require refrigeration should be kept at or below 40 degrees, so don't leave home without a refrigerator thermometer for your cooler.
- Safety tip: To ensure safe temps, stock your cooler with plenty of ice or ice packs, freeze bottles of water and pack them around the foods (you can drink them when they thaw), and always keep the cooler in the air-conditioned backseat of your car, not in the trunk!
For more food safety information, visit these Web sites:
Foodsafety.gov, Homefoodsafety.org, Fightbac.org, Fsis.usda.gov
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