Food myths vs. reality

This is an archived article that was published on in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.


Myth: Eating raw or undercooked pork causes trichinosis.

Reality: Modern animal feeding practices have virtually erased the infection, which is caused by a larvae of a species of worm.

What to do: Cook pork until it has an internal temperature of 160 degrees. (Trichinosis is killed at 137 degrees.)


Myth: Don't eat fish because it contains toxins such as mercury, dioxins and PCBs.

Reality: Some species have contaminants, but recent studies suggest the health benefits outweigh the risks.

What to do: Eat a variety of seafood. If you have more than five servings a week, limit fish with higher contaminant levels, such as shark, swordfish, marlin and fresh or canned tuna. Young children and women who are nursing, pregnant or may become pregnant should eat less of these.


Myth: Most fruits and vegetables are laden with pesticides.

Reality: Some conventionally grown fruits and vegetables have higher pesticide levels, such as peaches, apples, strawberries, cherries, pears, spinach, lettuce and potatoes.

What to do: If possible, purchase organic versions of these foods. Wash and rinse all produce, which reduces the levels of some pesticides.


Myth: Milk contains synthetic growth hormones harmful to your health.

Reality: Consumer groups have sued over recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, which helps cows produce more milk. But courts have supported the FDA's stance that the hormones make little difference to milk.

What to do: Drink milk; keep in mind that certified organic milk does not contain hormones and antibiotics that have been linked to increased antibacterial resistance in humans.


Myth: It's unsafe to eat meat or other foods that have been irradiated.

Reality: Federal health officials say irradiation kills E. coli, salmonella, campylobacter and other organisms that make consumers sick without posing health risks or significantly reducing nutritional quality or taste.

What to do: If you're concerned, check the label. The Food and Drug Administration requires warnings on all irradiated foods.

Myth: You can eat all the red meat you want.

Reality: A new Harvard University study found that red meat raises the risk of hormone-fueled breast cancer. Red meat consumption also has been linked to heart disease and other forms of cancer.

What to do: Limit your intake of red meat.

Myth: E. coli is commonly found in red meat.

Reality: It's true that undercooked, contaminated ground beef has caused more E. coli-related illnesses than any other food. The bacteria, the leading cause of foodborne illness, also have been found in bean sprouts and fresh leafy greens, possibly from contaminated water or contact with cattle waste.

What to do: Cook hamburgers until they're brown and have an internal temperature of 160 degrees.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control, Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), Environmental Working Group, Food and Drug Administration, Utah Department of Health, Consumer Reports