September is National Food Safety Education Month. And several organizations are offering information to help consumers stay safe by using good practices in the kitchen and by debunking food safety myths. The consumer shares responsibility with producers and distributors for food safety. Home cooks must know proper food handling and cooking techniques, because pathogenic bacteria can be present on all foods.
The National Chicken Council is partnering with Partnership for Food Safety Education to inform the public about some common myths. Since one in six Americans will get a foodborne illness this year, consumer education is critical.
These are some of the myths advocates are debunking: “Microwaves kill bacteria.” Microwaves do not kill bacteria; the heat that microwaves generate kill bacteria in foods. And since microwave ovens can heat foods unevenly, there may be undercooked areas in the food where bacteria survive. It’s important to follow microwave cooking rules, such as stirring, rotating foods, standing times, and using a thermometer in several places to check the final temperature.
Bagged lettuces are another area of confusion. There is controversy on this topic, but in general, food safety experts say that re-washing packaged greens that are labeled “ready to eat” or “washed”, may re-contaminate the food with bacteria in the consumers’ kitchen sink. Consumer Reports conducted a study in 2010 that found while salad greens had bacteria such as coliform and enterococcus, they didn’t have disease-causing bacteria. Whole lettuces and greens and all other loose produce should be washed under running water before preparation.
Judging food doneness is a kitchen skill. But many consumers think they can tell when a food is properly cooked by looking at it or checking by touch. The only way to be sure that food is safely cooked is to check the temperature with an internal thermometer. Color, texture, and steam are not safe indicators of doneness.
National Food Safety Month has put out a flyer to help consumers keep the food they prepare safe. And you can download and print infographics and charts from that organization to help you keep your family safe from foodborne illness.