Were the pyramids erected by Ancient Aliens? Was it just a weather balloon that was captured in Roswell or something from further afield? Did we land on the Moon in 1969 or did Armstrong and Aldrin bounce around a Hollywood sound stage?

Unfortunately, we are unable to address such supposed conspiracies as we have left our tinfoil hat on the hanger. However, we do have Geoff Tooley, our resident Food Safety Training Manager, on hand to debunk the top 5 food safety myths he has encountered in his 20+ years in the business…

1. If you get a bad stomach it is always the last thing you ate

We have all been hugging the toilet like it is our best friend while cursing the spaghetti alle vongole we ate for lunch 2 hours ago (No? Just me then…), but is it right to attribute the queasy feeling to the last thing you ate?

Simple answer – NO! Food poisoning symptoms such as diarrhoea take at least six hours to rear their ugly head, and many types of food poisoning take at least a day to develop. The culprit may not be obvious, it could be anything from rice to the fact that the person preparing the food hasn’t washed their hands. Have a look at my previous foray into the blogosphere – 5 Foods to Avoid at Events – for the most likely perpetrators of your pain in the paunch.

2. Dates on food are just there to make you waste produce

Food packages nowadays have a number of dates scattered around the packaging vying for your attention, but which should you take notice of? “Best Before”? “Display Until”? “Born-On Date”? We have a handy guide:

  • “Display Until” is used by retailers to aid stock rotation, and are not a legal requirement.
  • “Best Before” is a voluntary requirement and denotes how long the product is at its best quality. Food eaten after this date is not likely to be harmful (unless it is eggs – avoid eating these after the “Best Before” date).
  • The one that is imperative to food safety is the “Use By” date. This date is a legal requirement on highly perishable foods to guarantee your safety and are worked out by strict testing and need to be followed. For full details of food labeling terms visit the Food Standards Agency website here.

Great Food at Leeds, the catering provider at the University of Leeds, follow both “Best Before” and “Use By” dates to ensure they provide safe food of the highest quality.

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

So you bought a chicken and then leave it in the back of the fridge for a week, going past the “Use By” date by just 2 days. You open the bag and give it a sniff. Can you ascertain whether it is safe to eat by following your nose? There isn’t a fruity smell emanating from the bird and it looks the right colour, so it’s safe to eat, right?

Unfortunately contrary to popular thought and inaccurate media reporting this is incorrect. Food poisoning bacteria do not change the taste, texture or appearance food. Bacteria that make food go “off” are totally different from Bacteria that can make you ill.

4. Raw chicken needs to be washed before cooking

If you still have a cookbook from the early 80’s or before on the shelves (like I do), you will notice that a number of the recipes will instruct you to wash raw chicken before cooking. This is against all current advice, and appears to be a hangover from early 20th century cookbooks telling us to and was then repeated as gospel. Here is an excellent article about the history of chicken washing in cookbooks.

Washing raw chicken is the best way to spread food poisoning bacteria (specifically campylobacter) around your kitchen, work surfaces and clothing. Water droplets containing the dangerous bacteria can be transported across your kitchen with ease, which can cause contamination. Washing raw chicken has no benefit and will not get rid of campylobacter, salmonella or E.coli – correct cooking will kill all dangerous bacteria. The Food Standards Agency website has all the advice you need about storing and cooking chicken, along with an excellent video about campylobacter.

5. If you drop food on the floor it is safe to eat

We all have variations on the “5 Second Rule” – as long as the toast doesn’t drop butter side down (it inevitably will) you are fine to scoop it up and stuff it into your face before “5 Mississippi’s” have elapsed without consequence (other than stares of general disgust if done in public).

You know where I am going with this… Any food dropped into an area which is host to bacteria will be contaminated immediately and should be disposed of straight away.


Visit the Great food at Leeds website for the latest seasonal, locally sourced catering at the University of Leeds.