Feb. 8, 2024—Whether it's the five-second rule or the perils of double-dipping, you’re probably familiar with some popular food-related folklore. But when it comes to food safety, the conventional wisdom isn’t always correct.
Get the facts behind seven common food-safety beliefs, based on information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other experts.
Double-dipping really does spread germs.
Resist the urge to go back for a second pass at the guacamole. Double dipping is a great way to transfer germs from your mouth to the bowl and vice versa.
Tip: If you're hosting a gathering, reduce the temptation to double dip by putting serving spoons in your dip and offering guests small plates to use.
Forget the five-second rule.
While it's true that the longer a bite spends on the floor the more germs it will pick up, food will start picking up bacteria instantaneously.
Tip: Dropping food isn't the only way to contaminate it. Make sure your cooking utensils, cutting boards and other kitchen surfaces are clean.
Never rinse chicken before cooking it.
You've probably heard that raw chicken is often contaminated with bacteria that can make you sick, including salmonella and campylobacter. This is a big reason so many people take their raw birds to the sink for a rinse. Unfortunately, this makes the problem worse, spreading the bacteria all around the kitchen.
Tip: If you see any specks on your chicken, remove them with a paper towel. Then get your chicken in the oven ASAP. It's the heat that kills the bacteria and makes it safe to eat, not water. Use a meat thermometer to make sure it's cooked to 165 degrees.
Check your fridge temperature.
You might think you'd notice if your fridge was too warm. But according to the Partnership for Food Safety Education, 43% of homes have a refrigerator that's too warm for food safety.
Tip: Use an appliance thermometer to know your fridge's true temp. To keep your food properly chilled, the refrigerator should be 40 degrees or below. Why? The bacteria that cause foodborne illness grow quickly when it's 41 or above.
You should wash your hands before you cook.
This is true—but it's not the whole story. In addition to scrubbing up before you start any food preparation, you should also wash them regularly as you go. Give your hands a thorough scrub after handling raw eggs, flour or meat.
Tip: Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before, during and after preparing food, as well as before and after eating.
Don't let hot foods cool on the counter.
You might have heard that it's best to let hot foods cool before putting them in the fridge, but the truth is that leftovers need to get in the fridge quickly. You absolutely must chill them within two hours, or one hour if the weather is warm or the food has been held in a hot car.
Tip: Instead of putting a whole roast or pot of stew in the refrigerator, divide them into small containers. They'll get out of the danger zone of above 40 degrees faster.
Want to keep brushing up on food safety? Learn more in our Food Safety health topic center.
- Applied and Environmental Microbiology. "Longer Contact Times Increase Cross-Contamination of Enterobacter aerogenes from Surfaces to Food." https://journals.asm.org/doi/10.1128/aem.01838-16.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "10 Dangerous Food Safety Mistakes." https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/ten-dangerous-mistakes.html.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Handwashing: A Healthy Habit in the Kitchen." https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/handwashing-kitchen.html.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Preventing Norovirus Outbreaks." https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/norovirus/index.html.
- Journal of Food Safety. "Effect of Biting Before Dipping (Double-Dipping) Chips on the Bacterial Population of the Dipping Solution." https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1745-4565.2008.00137.x.
- Partnership for Food Safety Education. "Don't Wash Your Chicken!" https://www.fightbac.org/poultry.
- Partnership for Food Safety Education. "Go 40 or Below." https://www.fightbac.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Go-40-or-Below-The-Science-Behind-the-Messages.pdf.
- Partnership for Food Safety Education. "Home Food Safety Mythbusters." https://www.fightbac.org/food-safety-mythbusters.