Published 12 November 2018

Food poisoning can be particularly serious in young children, the elderly and people of all ages in poor health. If you get food poisoning, it is recommended to seek medical attention. It's important to be well-informed about food safety. As part of the Australian Food Safety Week, we reveal the truth behind 10 popular food myths.

1) The best way to defrost food is to leave it on the bench.

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

2) It is not safe to eat food after the ‘best before’ date.

MYTH - 'Best before' dates are about food quality not safety. They are usually found on food that lasts a long time. If the food has passed its 'best before' date it does not mean it is unsafe, it might have started to change its colour, flavour or texture. So it is safe!

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

MYTH - Although a bad smell or flavour are signs that food has 'gone off', bacteria that give you food poisoning do not often produce these signs. 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. Find out more about keeping your food safe.

4) If you have got an ‘upset’ stomach it is usually from the last thing you ate.

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.

5) Most food poisoning is from ‘dodgy’ restaurants and takeaways.

MYTH - Food poising can occur anywhere. It is just as likely to be from food prepared at home as from restaurants and takeaways. 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.

6) You need to wash raw chicken before you cook it.

MYTH - Although most raw meat will have some bacteria on it, washing will not remove it. 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.

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

MYTH - Overloading the fridge reduces airflow so the fridge has to work much harder to keep its contents cold. Between 5°C and 60°C food poisoning bacteria start to multiply so it can be dangerous if your fridge does not keep food below 5C°.

8) Unpasteurised (raw) milk is good for you as it has more vitamins.

MYTH - Pasteurisation (heat treatment for a short period to kill harmful bacteria) has done a great deal to reduce food borne disease over the years. Consuming raw milk can cause severe illness due to the possible presence of harmful bacteria such as Shiga Toxin–Producing Escherichia coli, Campylobacter and Salmonella. Pregnant women, young children (particularly babies), the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems are at greatest risk of getting sick and the consequences for them can be more severe. Pasteurised milk is as nutritious as unpasteurised milk.

9) It is ok to eat burgers and sausages rare.

MYTH - Steak is safe to eat ‘rare’ as long as the outside is fully cooked.
Burgers and sausages need to be cooked all the way through as they are made from meat that has been minced. This means bacteria will be spread throughout the product and is no longer 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.

10)  Food poisoning is mild and just a bit of gastro.

MYTH - While vomiting and diarrhoea are the most common symptoms, food poisoning in extreme forms can cause reactive arthritis, kidney or nerve damage, hepatitis, and even death.

For further information on Australian Food Safety Week 2018 visit the Food Safety Information Council.