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The raw flour and eggs in cookie dough can both transport harmful bacteria.belchonock/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

More than ever, we’re focused on keeping our foods safe to eat. We’re shopping safely for groceries, cleaning fresh produce diligently and, of course, washing our hands before and after handling food. All good.

You might be surprised to learn, though, that some of the things you may be doing to keep your foods safe and nutritious could actually be doing the opposite. Have you been misled by any of the following myths?

It’s okay to eat raw cookie dough

If you’ve been baking up a storm during the pandemic, avoid tasting raw batter. That’s because flour is a raw ingredient that’s meant to be cooked before it’s eaten.

Grain can become contaminated by harmful bacteria, such as E. coli, while it’s growing in the field or when it’s processed into flour. Bacteria are killed only when foods made with flour are baked or cooked.

If your recipe includes raw eggs, you run the risk, albeit small, of salmonella food poisoning if you sample the dough. Salmonella bacteria can grow inside unbroken eggs. Cooking eggs to a temperature of at least 71 C (160 F) kills the bacteria; refrigeration does not.

Older adults, young children, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are at increased risk of food poisoning.

It’s best to rinse chicken and meat before cooking it

Washing raw meat or poultry before cooking is not recommended. The reason: Doing so can unknowingly scatter bacteria to anything that’s nearby – the sink, the countertop, utensils and other foods.

Plus, rinsing raw meat won’t sanitize it so that it’s free of bacteria. Cooking to proper temperatures is the only way to kill bacteria that may be present on the surface of raw meat or chicken.

Microwave cooking destroys vitamins

How long a food is cooked, how much water is used and the cooking temperature are factors that determine the extent of nutrient loss during cooking. Water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C, folate and thiamin, are most vulnerable to cooking loss.

Microwave cooking uses less heat than many other cooking methods and involves shorter cooking times. If you cook foods using a minimal amount of water (for example, vegetables), microwave-cooking is a nutritional win. (So is steaming.)

Research has shown that compared to boiling, pressure-cooking and roasting, microwave-cooking maintained the highest levels of antioxidants in beans, beets, artichoke, asparagus, garlic, onion and spinach.

If you pick it up within five seconds, it’s safe to eat

According to a 2003 study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, if your floors aren’t clean, you might be eating more bacteria than you think.

In the experiment, the researchers swabbed clean, dry floors and found very few microorganisms. But when cookies and gummy bears were placed on dry, sterile floor tiles that had been coated with E. coli, the bacteria were transferred to the food in less than five seconds.

Floors and carpets can easily become contaminated, especially since shoes can spread bacteria. According to the Canadian Institute of Food Safety, up to 93 per cent of shoes have been shown to carry traces of fecal contamination after three months of wear.

Burgers are ready to eat when they’re brown inside

You can’t judge a burger by its colour. Beef patties may be brown in the centre before reaching a safe temperature, or they can stay pink after being properly cooked.

The issue: ground beef may contain E. coli 0157:H7, a bacterium that causes severe food poisoning. E. coli 0157:H7 may be present in the intestines of cattle; the meat can become contaminated during slaughter or grinding beef.

To kill E. coli 0157:H7, cook beef burgers to a safe internal temperature of 71 C (160 F). Don’t rely on colour; use a digital meat thermometer to ensure burgers are safe to eat.

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan.

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