Dispelling food safety myths

Food Safety Week started on Monday (June 6) and Angus Council’s environmental health experts are using the event to dispel some food safety myths.

It appears that people in Scotland are putting themselves at risk of food poisoning because of some commonly held food safety myths.

People were asked whether they thought a range of statements about food safety were true or false – from the truth about ‘use by’ dates to the infamous ‘five second rule’ for food dropped on the floor.

The research showed that most of us are aware of good hygiene in the kitchen, but can still fall foul of some common misconceptions around food safety.

Angus Council’s environmental health spokesman David May commented: “There were 1,886 reported cases of food poisoning in Scotland in the first quarter of this year, and in Angus we fully support the aim of this campaign to dispel some of the myths surrounding food safety.”

Across the country findings show more than half (53 per cent) of the people we surveyed believe that we can tell if food is safe to eat just by its appearance or smell.

This is wrong. Potentially dangerous food bugs like E.coli and salmonella don’t always make food smell ‘off’ and do not affect the appearance of food.

Around a third (31 per cent) of people questioned in Scotland thought that ‘use by’ dates are put on food packaging to encourage shoppers to throw it out so they have to buy more. In reality the ‘use by’ date is required by law and is an important indicator of how long a food will remain safe to eat.

Other dates that also appear, such as ‘best before’ and ‘sell by’ dates, relate to the food’s quality rather than its safety.

One in ten people questioned in Scotland believe that if you drop food on the floor it is safe to eat as long as you pick it up within five seconds.

Alas there is no truth in the ‘five second rule’, or any of its variations. If there is one place your food is most likely to pick up bugs, it’s on the floor.

Other myths highlighted in the research include:-

‘Plastic chopping boards are more hygienic than wooden ones.’ Not true, but 64% of people asked in Scotland thinks it is. Both can harbour germs if they aren’t cleaned properly after use.

‘If you get food poisoning it was from the last thing you ate.’ In Scotland 17% of those questioned incorrectly thought this was true, but in fact for some bugs it can take up to two weeks for symptoms to develop.

‘You need to wash chicken and poultry before you cook it.’ This was one of the most common misconceptions with two thirds (66%) of people surveyed in Scotland thinking this is true. In fact washing chicken could splash germs around the kitchen. Cooking it thoroughly will be enough to kill any bacteria that may be present.

Jacqui McElhiney, a food safety expert at the Food Standards Agency in Scotland, said: “This research shows that many people in Scotland still have some misconceptions about how we should store, prepare and cook our food, which could put us at more risk of food poisoning.

“Overall it seems that people over the age of 65 are more likely to believe many of these food myths.

In particular they are more likely to believe ‘use by’ dates are there to make you throw food away before you need to, which is worrying as people over 65 who get food poisoning get it more severely than younger people and are more likely to end up in hospital.

“Getting food poisoning is pretty miserable but for some people it can be very dangerous. There are about a million cases every year and we’re working hard with food producers, processors and retailers to bring that number down.

“With Food Safety Week starting today we hope this research will help people think about what they do and better separate fact from fiction in their kitchens.

‘The results also support the findings of the Food Standards Agency’s recent ‘Food and You’ survey which will allow us to compare attitudes and behaviours and how these change over time.”