There are a number of widespread myths when it comes to food safety. Here are the facts behind these common mistaken beliefs:
Myth: You can smell when food has gone bad
Fact: Microorganisms consist of two main groups: Those that cause disease (which have no odor) and those that cause spoilage (which do). Although there is some overlap between the two, many of the bacteria that make you sick do not cause spoilage. “You could have loads of E. coli or salmonella or listeria in a food, and it would not appear to be spoiled or have any off-odor or flavor,” says the FDA’s Don Zink. (Weise, 2-16-2012) The only real way to know for certain is to know how it was harvested, stored and prepared.
Myth: Freezing or refrigerating food kills viruses & bacteria
Fact: Chilling foods only slows the growth and spread of bacteria, whereas freezing stops that growth. Yet even after freezing, dormant pathogens can re-emerge from a state of suspended hibernation and start multiplying again as though nothing happened once that food is restored to an ambient temperature. The only way to truly kill bacteria is by cooking food.
Myth: Food expiration dates on labels tell you if something is safe to eat
Fact: The best-by dates on food labels have absolutely nothing to do with food safety. Rather, they are dates created by the manufacturer that are meant to provide a measure of quality, not safety. These dates are not regulated by the FDA, and there is no uniform standard. The only exception to this rule is infant formula. (See our page on food expiration & best-by dates.)
Myth: Mayonnaise is especially dangerous
Fact: Contrary to popular belief, mayonnaise is not the death trap it’s frequently made out to be. It’s actually a substance with penicillin-like properties, and the salt and vinegar or lemon juice it contains generally kills any microbes that may be lurking within.
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