10 Food Poisoning Myths You Can Safely Ignore

Updated: Feb. 25, 2021

Each year, one in six Americans gets sick after consuming contaminated food or beverages. With more than 250 foodborne illnesses, some caused by bacteria on the food and others by harmful chemicals, pay attention to the truth behind these common food poisoning myths.


Myth: I got food poisoning from the last thing I ate

Fact: Actually, most harmful bacteria takes longer than a few hours to make you sick. So don’t be so quick to blame that sushi lunch for your queasy belly; it might have been the stuffed burrito you had for dinner the night before, or even your homemade egg salad from two days ago.

iStock/Peter Hermus

Myth: The more bleach I use, the more bacteria I’ll kill

Fact: You’ll kill the same amount of bacteria whether you use one spray or four. It’s more important to make sure every surface that could have been exposed to bacteria has been thoroughly cleaned. FoodSafety.gov recommends using one teaspoon of liquid bleach to one quart of water. You should also clean utensils and cutting boards after each use to prevent the spread of bacteria and germs, especially when handling raw meat.


Myth: I can’t get sick from fruits or veggies with a peel

Fact: You can absolutely get sick from an orange or cucumber, even if you peel it. Chemicals and bacteria can be transferred from the peel or rind to the inside of your fruits and veggies when cutting them. Be sure to always thoroughly wash all your produce, regardless of how you plan to eat it. But skip the dish soap, which can linger on foods and make them unsafe to eat.


Myth: I’m a vegetarian, so my risk of food poisoning is low

Fact: While animal products such as meat and unpasteurized cheese are common culprits in food poisoning cases, fruits and vegetables are quickly catching up. Unsafe practices among farm workers or at distributors, as well as wildlife and contaminated irrigation water, are often to blame for the spread of bacteria. Don’t miss these other dangerous ingredients you don’t realize are in your food.


Myth: Food poisoning isn’t a big deal, I’ll get over it in a day

Fact: You might want to treat food poisoning just as you would a serious stomach bug. While most food poisoning cases will just cause mild symptoms for a day or two, some can turn deadly; about 3,000 Americans die each year from a foodborne illness, according to FoodSafety.gov. What’s more, food poisoning can lead to kidney failure when an infection from bacteria like E. coli attacks the digestive system, producing toxic substances that destroy red blood cells, causing injury to the organ. Though rare, a small number of people who become infected with Salmonella or Shigella develop pain in their joints that can lead to chronic arthritis. And infection with Listeria can lead to meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain that can lead to brain damage, while the nerve disorder Guillain-Barré syndrome may be triggered by an infection with Campylobacter. Find out how to tell the difference between food poisoning and the stomach flu.


Myth: Rinsing my meat will eliminate any harmful bacteria

Fact: Step away from the faucet! Though it seems like running chicken breast under water before cooking will rinse away anything that might make you sick, it can actually do the complete opposite and increase your chance of getting food poisoning. Juices from raw poultry or seafood can splash onto your sink, counters, and anything else nearby, taking bacteria with it. Skip the sink and reach straight for the skillet.

iStock/Joe Belanger

Myth: You shouldn’t put hot food in the fridge

Fact: Actually, you should, and it’ll taste just fine. Bacteria can grow rapidly on food left out at room temperature for more than two hours, and during the hot summer months, it can start to spoil within an hour. The Washington State Department of Health suggests dividing large amounts into smaller portions and packaging in shallow containers, which will cool quicker in the refrigerator. Here are more cooking rules to avoid nasty food poisoning.


Myth: Always wash pre-washed bagged lettuce

Fact: If the bag of greens says “washed,” “ready to eat,” or “triple washed,” you don’t need to give them another bath. Pre-washed packaged greens go through a cleaning process immediately before going into the bag, and re-washing and handling the leaves can create an opportunity for contamination, according to the International Association for Food Protection.


Myth: It’s OK to eat food that’s been left out, as long as I heat it up

Fact: If you want to make yourself sick, then go right ahead. But some bacteria, such as Staphylococcus and Bacillus cereus produce toxins that aren’t destroyed by reheating, no matter how high the temperature. Always throw out food that’s been left on the counter for more than two hours, and beware of these common foods that could easily give you food poisoning.