Enjoying a bit of raw cookie dough or cake batter can be very tempting, and the Partnership for Food Safety Education probably isn’t surprising anyone by saying one of its top food safety myths is that kids are the only ones to lick the spoon or stick their finger in the mixing bowl.
“Just a lick can make you sick,” University of Georgia professor of Foods and Nutrition Judy Harrison told listeners during a food-safety webinar hosted by the PFSE, a nonprofit group with partners that include the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Food Marketing Institute.
Raw batter and even prepackaged mixes can harbor bacteria that lead to salmonella, an ubiquitous bacteria commonly found in raw meats and eggs.
Food safety experts say myths like this can be dealt with through education, from parents and teachers, so that children are capable of fixing themselves an after-school snack or even their own lunch without coming down with a food-borne illness.
Harrison said another myth many people believe is that when children cook food in a microwave there is no worry about safety because the process kills all bacteria. While it is true microwaves can kill bacteria, foods tend to cook unevenly and even machines with turntables can leave cold spots in foods where bacteria survive.
Harrison also said teaching children to carefully follow package cooking instructions, which may call for stirring or turning, is part of the solution, along with showing them how to use a food thermometer. It also is important to observe stand times, she said, because they “are part of the cooking process, allowing the heat to be conducted throughout the product.”
Sarah Markland, a doctoral candidate at the University of Delaware, said another myth is about hand washing, before and after meals and during food preparation. Rubbing hands under running water doesn’t cut it, Markland said, pointing to data showing that 50% to 60% of gastrointestinal and respiratory infections are spread by dirty hands.
Children should be taught to always use soap, but schools, homes and other institutions should ensure the appropriate size, placement and maintenance of sinks so children can easily get to them.
Markland said to show children how to soap up their hands and then rub them together, paying attention to fingernails and the backs of their hands, while singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. That takes about 20 seconds, which is the recommended time for hand washing.
She does not recommend using hand sanitizers unless that is all that is available because they do not work well on heavily soiled hands and are not effective against the norovirus.
Children should be taught to wash hands before and after food preparation and during if switching between different dishes, such as ones contain meat and vegetables.
Kalmia Kniel-Tolbert, associate professor of Food Parasitology and Virology at the University of Delaware, said another big misconception is that prepackaged fruits and vegetables never need to be washed before eating. But this one is a little trickier for children to grasp.
“We need to be reading our way to food safety,” Kniel-Tolbert said. Unless the container or package says the food is prewashed, it should be rinsed under running water, gently scrubbed to remove dirt and then dried with a paper towel.
Kniel-Tolbert said dumping prewashed produce onto a dirty kitchen counter or into a container that is not completely clean can defeat the purpose and allow bacteria to cross-contaminate the food.