Tips and Tricks

10 common food safety myths answered

Food poisoning is as easy to get as it is to avoid – but with the right know-how, you can feed the family without anyone getting sick.
10 common food safety myths answered

Think you know all there is to know when it comes to food safety? Think again. Foodborne illness, or food poisoning, strikes about 200,000 New Zealanders every year, and in many cases it is entirely avoidable. We have outlined some of the most common misconceptions around cleaning, cooking and chilling, so you and your family can eat safely.

1. If you’re in a hurry, it’s fine to thaw frozen food on the kitchen bench.

FALSE! Harmful bacteria could grow in the food if it gets too warm while defrosting. The best way to safely thaw food is to place it in the fridge – on the bottom shelf away from other foods. You can also do it in the microwave on the ‘defrost’ setting, as long as you cook it immediately afterwards. Always ensure the food is thawed all the way through before using, or it won’t cook properly in the middle and harmful bacteria may survive. You can refreeze defrosted food as long as it was thawed in a fridge below 5°C and has not been left on the kitchen bench.

2. You need at least three different cloths for cleaning your kitchen.

TRUE! You should always use different sponges or cloths for the dishes, the bench and the floor to avoid cross contamination. Also use paper towels to clean up messy spills such as raw meat juices, before wiping with a cloth, hot water and detergent. Reusable cloths should be replaced regularly; maintain them by either soaking overnight in a shallow dish of water with 5-10 drops of household bleach or by microwaving for 3-4 minutes on high.

3. Your refrigerator automatically keeps your food at the right temperature at all times.

FALSE! Depending on the age and model of your fridge, you may need to check it is maintaining a temperature of between 2°C and 5°C. If it doesn’t have a reliable temperature gauge, you can purchase an affordable digital fridge thermometer. Don’t leave the fridge door open for longer than is essential, and check the seal is tight. Regularly defrost and clean the fridge to avoid ice build-up, which can affect efficiency. Avoid overloading the fridge as this can restrict air circulation, meaning some food warms up, and is at risk of developing bacteria.

4. You should store raw meat at the bottom of the fridge.

TRUE! Keeping uncooked meat and seafood on the bottom shelf ensures it is in the coolest part of the fridge, and helps prevent any juices – which can contain harmful bacteria – from dripping onto other ready-to-eat food, fruit and vegetables. Make sure raw meat and seafood is covered or stored in sealed containers. Wipe up spills immediately.

5. Food past the use-by date won’t do you any harm.

FALSE! The use-by dates are for your safety, and you shouldn’t purchase or eat products once they have passed the date marked. Be aware the dates are based on you storing the food correctly. If you can’t see a date or if the food looks questionable, dispose of it.

6. It’s important to wash poultry before cooking.

FALSE! While some of your old recipes might advise rinsing out your chicken, research has concluded it is highly unsafe, as it spreads bacteria – such as Campylobacter – around the kitchen. Cooking the poultry thoroughly until the juices run clear will make it safe without any need for washing.

7. As long as they are covered, you can leave leftovers out for several hours after cooking.

FALSE! You should never leave food at room temperature for more than two hours, and if it is a warm day, you should refrigerate sooner, as the number of bacteria can double every 20 minutes. Ideally, cool the leftovers for up to 30 minutes – this will stop them raising the temperature of food already in your fridge. To speed up this process, cool food in small portions before transferring to the refrigerator in a covered container. If in doubt, throw it out!

TOP TIP:

Resealable plastic bags are a convenient option for smaller food portions. To store safely, keep a couple of bags aside just for raw foods. After each use, wash all bags in hot, soapy water and check for leaks, stains or damage. Discard bags that have deteriorated.

8. Bacteria can thrive in rice and pasta.

TRUE! It’s not just raw meat and seafood that can contain harmful bacteria. Rice, pasta and other starchy foods such as potato flakes and custard powder can be contaminated with Bacillus cereus, a bacterium that isn’t killed by cooking and can cause vomiting or diarrhoea. Toxin is produced when these foods are cooled too slowly.To avoid infection, make sure the cooked product is either eaten immediately, kept hot at more than 60°C, or cooled and refrigerated as soon as cooked. If rice is being cooked for sushi or egg-fried rice,cool in the fridge until ready to use.

9. Meat with lumps and defects in it is still fine to eat.

TRUE! Lumps and other changes in meat texture are generally not unsafe. Just ensure you cook all meat to an internal temperature of at least 75°C

10. If you don’t eat all your reheated leftovers in one sitting, they will be fine to heat up the next day.

FALSE! You should not reheat leftovers more than once. When you reheat the first time, ensure they are steaming hot – more than 75°C.

TOP TIP:

Because we touch everything that we cook, it’s vital to wash your hands thoroughly before handling food, and after handling raw food (this includes vegetables). Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds; pay particular attention to your fingertips.

How to barbecue safely this summer

We all love a great barbecue, but make sure yours doesn’t come with a side of food poisoning by following this safety advice:

  • Make sure your barbecue and cooking tools have been cleaned with soap and hot water before using. Heat barbecue to very hot before placing the food on.

  • Have separate utensils, plates and other equipment for raw and cooked foods – using just one set will mean you transfer pathogens from raw meats to cooked foods.

  • Don’t place or prepare raw meat on the grill next to cooked or partially cooked meat, or other ready-to-eat foods.

  • Precook large pieces of chicken in the microwave to cook the middle, before browning on the barbecue.

  • Cuts of beef or lamb can be served pink on the inside, but any kind of burger patty must be cooked all the way through.

  • Turn food regularly to cook evenly.

  • Marinate meat in a covered container in the fridge, and cook the marinade before pouring it over cooked foods.

  • Keep all food covered and cool until ready to cook.

Your ultimate refrigerator and freezer storage guide

Raw eggs, in shell: 4-5 weeks in refrigerator. Don’t freeze

Raw eggs, separated: 2-4 days in refrigerator. 12 months in freezer

Eggs, hard boiled: 1 week in refrigerator. Don’t freeze

Deli-cooked food: 3-4 days in refrigerator. Don’t freeze

Cooked ham, whole: 7 days in refrigerator. 1-2 months in freezer

Cooked ham, slices: 3-4 days in refrigerator. 1-2 months in freezer

Lunch meats, unsealed: 3-5 days in refrigerator. 1-2 months in freezer

Lunch meats, sealed package: 2 weeks in refrigerator. 1-2 months in freezer

Fresh soups and casseroles: 3-4 days in refrigerator. 2-3 months in freezer

Bacon: 7 days in refrigerator. 1 month in freezer

Sausages, raw: 1-2 days in refrigerator. 1-2 months in freezer

Beef mince, raw: 1-2 days in refrigerator. 3-4 months in freezer

Beef, veal, lamb and pork steaks, raw: 3-5 days in refrigerator. 6-12 months in freezer

Beef, veal, lamb and pork chops, raw: 3-5 days in refrigerator. 4-6 months in freezer

Beef, veal, lamb and pork roasts, raw: 3-5 days in refrigerator. 4-12 months in freezer

Beef, veal, lamb and pork, cooked: 3-4 days in refrigerator. 2-3 months in freezer

Beef, veal, lamb and pork gravy, cooked: 1-2 days in refrigerator. 2-3 months in freezer

Chicken and turkey, whole: 1-2 days in refrigerator. 12 months in freezer

Chicken and turkey, parts: 1-2 days in refrigerator. 9 months in freezer

Chicken and turkey, cooked: 3-4 days in refrigerator. 4-6 months in freezer

Lean fish, raw: 1-2 days in refrigerator. 6 months in freezer

Fatty fish, raw: 1-2 days in refrigerator. 2-3 months in freezer

Shrimp, scallops, squid, raw: 1-2 days in refrigerator. 3-6 months in freezer

Fish, cooked: 3-4 days in refrigerator. 4-6 months in freezer

Fish, smoked: 14 days in refrigerator. 3-6 months in freezer

Seafood, canned, opened: 3-4 days in refrigerator. 2 months in freezer

For more information, visit www.mpi.govt.nz/cleancookchill

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