September is National Food Safety Month.


BETHANY, Mo. – The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that almost 50 million people get sick from foodborne diseases in the U.S. each year.

To help you and your family avoid joining those numbers, University of Missouri Extension nutrition and health education specialist Janet Hackert shares some myths and facts about food safety from Fight Bac!, the Partnership for Food Safety Education.

Myth: Cross-contamination does not happen in the refrigerator because it is too cold for germs to survive.

“Some microorganisms can survive, even at refrigerator temperatures,” says Hackert.

For example, listeria monocytogenes, which can be found in soft cheese, unpasteurized milk, hot dogs, deli meats and other foods, can live and continue to grow in temperatures as low as 35.6 degrees Fahrenheit. “That’s 4.4 degrees colder than the warmest a refrigerator should be,” she said. “Keep the refrigerator at 40 degrees or colder and the freezer at zero degrees or colder.

Myth: Leftovers are safe to eat until they smell bad.

“In fact, most contamination that can cause food poisoning does not affect the smell, taste or look of the food,” she said.

Know how long to safely keep foods at these temperatures. For example, keep leftovers in the refrigerator for only three to four days. Make a plan to eat them within that time. “If that is not possible or likely, freeze what would still be around beyond four days. Otherwise, toss them before they make anyone sick.”

Myth: If I microwave a food, the microwaves kill the bacteria, so the food is safe.

“The microwaves themselves do not kill the bacteria or viruses that can cause illness; the heat generated in the food by the microwaves is what is effective,” Hackert says. “Follow package instructions carefully, including turning and wait periods. Or use a cooking thermometer to make sure the food has reached a safe internal temperature.”

Go to for food safety tips and information about foodborne illness. More information from MU Extension is available at

MU Extension also has a series of guides on storing food safely in the cupboard, refrigerator and freezer. Publications MP556, MP557 and MP558 are available online at and from your local MU Extension center.