Safety and first aid

Food safety myths

Many people learn how to prepare food from their family members. If food safety preparation is not correct, it may be a cause of food poisoning. It is important to know the correct way to prepare food to reduce contamination.

Common myths

1. Loading the fridge with food / drinks will maintain a cold temperature

False – it is a myth.

Overloading the fridge reduces airflow so the fridge has to work much harder to keep its contents cold. 

Between 5ºC and 60ºC food poisoning bacteria start to multiply so it can be dangerous if your fridge does not keep food below 5ºC.

2. The best way to defrost food is to leave it on the work surface

False – it is a myth.

It can take hours for food to defrost and while the centre stays frozen the outside of the food can reach room temperature much more quickly.

For example, if a whole chicken is left to defrost on the work surface for hours the surface can reach a dangerous temperature allowing bacteria to multiply, while the interior slowly defrosts. 

The safest way to defrost food is in the fridge or the microwave.

3. Eating food after the 'best before' date will be fine

True – it is a food safety fact. 

'Best before' dates are about food quality not safety. They are usually found on food that lasts a long time. 

If food has passed its 'best before' date it does not mean it is unsafe, but it might have started to lose its colour, flavour or texture.

4. If food looks ok and smells ok it is safe to eat

False – it is a myth.

Although a bad smell or taste are signs that food has ‘gone off’, these signs often are not caused by bacteria that give you food poisoning. 

So the food’s appearance, smell or taste are not reliable warning signs. Instead, stick to the ‘use by’ date and storage instructions on the packet.

5. Plastic chopping boards are more hygienic than wooden ones

False – it is a myth.

There is not any strong evidence that one type of chopping board is more or less hygienic than another, whether plastic, wooden, glass or even marble. 

What is important is that the board gets cleaned properly after every use and separate boards are used for raw and cooked foods. Additionally, it must be replaced if it gets damaged, for example from deep cuts or scoring.

6. If you have got a 'dodgy' stomach it is usually from the last thing you ate

False – it is a myth.

It is natural to suspect the food you ate most recently would be the cause of food poisoning, but that is rarely the case. 

Symptoms usually take between 1 and 3 days to develop, so it will not necessarily be from the last food you ate.

7. Most food poisoning is from 'dodgy' restaurants and takeaways

False – it is a myth.

There is no specific evidence that food eaten out is more likely to cause food poisoning than food prepared at home, but it is easier to blame someone else. 

The habits we pick up from friends and family do not always ensure food is produced safely at home.

8. Cooked rice cannot be kept as long as other leftovers

True – it is a food safety fact.

Leftover cooked rice is fine to eat as long as it gets cooled and refrigerated quickly after cooking and eaten within 24 hours. This is because rice can contain a particularly tough type of bacteria that can survive heating. 

Most other leftovers are safe to eat up to 2 days after cooking. Always reheat leftovers until steaming hot and do not reheat more than once.

9. Eating food past the 'use by' date could make me sick

True – it is a food safety fact.

‘Use by’ dates inform consumers how long food will stay safe. They have to be put on food that ‘goes off’ quickly – and they are not just guesswork, the dates are worked out by scientific testing. 

Do not be tempted to eat food after the 'use by' date on the label, even if it looks and smells fine.

10. You do not need to wash raw chicken before you cook it

True – it is a food safety fact.

Although most raw meat will have some bacteria on it, washing will not get rid of them. 

In fact, washing is more likely to spread harmful bacteria onto hands, work surfaces, clothing and equipment through the splashing of water droplets around the kitchen. Thorough cooking will kill any bacteria present.

11. Food poisoning is not serious, it is just an upset stomach

False – it is a myth.

Although most cases of food poisoning are mild and last only a day or two, some can be far more serious, even deadly. 

Thankfully this is rare, but with more than 4.1 million cases of food poisoning in Australia each year a few simple actions can cut the likelihood of food poisoning drastically. 

Avoid food poisoning by remembering the simple 4 Cs for good food hygiene: cleaning, cooking, chilling and cross-contamination.

12. Steak is ok rare – as long as the outside is brown

True – it is a food safety fact.

Steak is safe to eat ‘rare’ as long as the outside is fully cooked. 

However, burgers and sausages need to be cooked thoroughly all the way through as they are made from meat that has been minced, so bacteria will be spread throughout the product and not just on the surface. To check if a burger is done, cut into the thickest part and check there is no pink meat, it is steaming hot and juices are clear.

Remember

  • Correct food safety is necessary to avoid food poisoning.
  • Just because you’ve always prepared a food that way does not mean it is food safe.

Acknowledgements

Environmental Health

Advert: 5 degrees or below is the temperature food should be stored in the fridge.