By Jason Masters
     Environmental Health Director

Common Food Myths


Q: Hi Jason, long time reader, first time writing in… I just found some leftover lasagna in my fridge. I don’t know how long it has been there, but it doesn’t smell bad, so it’s safe, right?


A: Oh. My. God. Becky. Look at that myth…

This leads me into a whole section I like to call… Fact or Fiction

So, my question is, who leaves lasagna in their fridge that long? Lasagna is delicious.

In North Carolina, according to the NC food code manual, a food can be held for 7 days at 41 degrees F or below. Don’t know the temperature of your fridge? Pick up one of these.

And remember, the ambient temperature of your refrigerator needs to be about 38 degrees F to maintain 41 degrees F in food.

There is no way to accurately determine if a food is safe to eat based on smell, look, taste, sliminess, length of fur, whether or not your brother-in-law would eat it, etc. Just because there may be a visible lack in quality doesn’t necessarily mean a food isn’t safe to eat, but the best recommendation I can make is, “when in doubt, throw it out.”

These apples are organic, so I’m just going to dig right in…yum, yum…crunchy!

Just because a food is labeled as organic or all natural doesn’t automatically make it safe to eat as is. The term “organic” usually applies to foods that are grown without the use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. Meat or dairy products labeled as “organic” are fed diets that are lacking in hormones and antibiotics. Before a product can be labeled as “organic”, a government entity (the USDA, through the National Organic Program) must certify the farm (or farms) as meeting strict criteria known as the USDA organic standards. And while the organic movement is growing in the United States, as well as here in Buncombe County, the organic standards say nothing about bacteria or viruses that may come in contact with the product. E. Coli (as well as other toxin producing bacteria, and viruses) is very prevalent in soil and water runoff, and frequently comes in contact with produce. The best routine is to simply wash all produce under running water.

I just got home from my favorite restaurant, and now I’m feeling sick. It must have been the two dozen raw oysters, XXtra hot wings, and two margaritas followed by a 3 egg omelet, right? I don’t think I can ever eat these foods again, or smell tequila, or look at oyster shells, etc. etc.…

While this…eclectic…combination of foods may cause even the most iron-gutted of us to cringe, it is USUALLY not what you most recently ordered at “Vibrio’s Oyster and Omelet Shack”* that got you sick. Although there are some cases of the onset of symptoms of foodborne illness occurring within 1-2 hours, these are associated with added ingredients or methods of preparation (i.e. foods cooked in metal lined cans, or the addition of metallic salts) or allergic reactions (MSG, or certain histamines associated with fish). Most true foodborne illness symptoms occur several hours to days after ingestion. Norovirus, a very common foodborne illness, for example, usually takes 12-48 hours to show up. And believe me, when it does, you will know. If you think you are becoming sick, try to remember the last several places you have eaten. It will be important to know these things when you call to inform the environmental health department of your illness…(you DO call and report your foodborne illness, right?) Also, go to the doctor. They will be able to confirm that what you are experiencing is actually a food borne illness, and not just indigestion…(plop plop, fizz fizz)

I just dropped my cheeseburger on the ground, but it’s cool, because, 5 second rule, right? Fact or fiction?

My personal favorite of all the food myths…

The real answer is: Partially fiction (or partially fact, if you are one of those half-full people). It really depends on the food, and the floor. The best explanation may be in the form of an example. Let’s say you dropped your pretzel on a hardwood floor.

Because both the pretzel and the hardwood floor are dry, transference of bacteria MAY be at a minimum. Now, if the floor was wet because you spilled all the juice out of the chicken package, OR if the pretzel is wet because your 3 year old licked all the salt off, well then, that’s a different story (and it might be a good idea to get your kids blood pressure checked). Same deal if it’s a wet food and dry floor. A cheeseburger dropped on a dry floor is probably going to pick up some nasty stuff. And of course, moist food and moist floor (or ground), well, that’s just a recipe for disaster. Bacteria don’t have a time limit on how quickly they jump on foods. It’s really fun to drop your chocolate chip cookie in front of your kids and yell “5 SECOND RULE!!” before wrestling it out of their hands, but the best course of action is to consider this a teaching moment, and err on the side of caution, and discard the food.

You can reach the food and lodging division of the environmental health section at 828-287-6317 (Rutherford), 828-894-8004 (Polk), or 828-652-2921 (McDowell), with any questions related to food safety.

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent*






By Jason Masters
     Environmental Health Director

Stock in the middle with you…


Q: Hey Jason, I love soup in the winter, but have always been afraid of the process. What is a safe way to make homemade soup for the cold winter months?


A: Soup is a wonderful treat on a cold winter day, or if you are like me, at any time throughout the year. Most soups are pretty basic, consisting of stock, meat and/or vegetables, and spices. Some soups introduce cream as a way to thicken and give the soup a silky mouthfeel. But to understand soup, we have to first start with the stock. Stock is just a product of water simmered with meat or bones (or both) for a set time period. Most times, vegetables are added, as well as salt and pepper and any other number of things you might have in the pantry. Simply put, water with meat and bones and those limp pieces of celery you’ve been saving, with a couple pinches of salt thrown in, and simmered for a few hours will produce a product that is far superior to any store bought stock or broth, and will add immense flavor (picture Guy Fieri: “Welcome to flavortown, baby!”) to any soup you make.

So what if you don’t have a half-day to sit around sipping hot tea and daydreaming of what you’re going to do after you retire, while leisurely skimming fat off your bubbling stock? Easy. Throw it all in a pressure cooker, let it sputtle and spurt for an hour, and BOOM, you’re done. Once you have your stock completed, soups, sauces, gravies, etc. are all within your grasp. (We will save sauces and gravies for another issue…)

From a food safety standpoint, cooling your delicious stock is the real issue. The North Carolina Food Code Manual (which is an adaptation of the 2009 FDA food code) dictates that potentially hazardous foods be cooled from 135 degrees F to 70 degrees F within two hours, and from 70 degrees F to 41 degrees F within the following 4 hours, to inhibit the growth of potentially harmful bacteria. The temperature range between 135 degrees F and 41 degrees F is what is commonly known as “The Danger Zone” (cue up your Kenny Loggins, kids…) and is the range that is just perfect for bacteria to thrive. This means exponential growth of bacteria is possible within this temperature range, however, if food is cooled within the parameters mentioned, then food can be safely stored. These are the exact specifications to which restaurants in all counties within the state are held. Some methods to help cool your stock (or any other food for that matter) include: ice baths, ice wands, adding ice to products, or placing products in a cooling unit (but make sure the food is not too hot, or it can warm up other foods in your refrigerator). You don’t need a fancy health inspector thermometer to keep track of your foods internal temperatures either, but spend the $10-15 bucks and grab one of these from Target ( or Wal-Mart (

If you think correctly cooling your stock is a pain, try telling a restaurant owner that he has to dump 10 gallons of his Italian Granny’s secret recipe Toscana down the drain…

You can reach the food and lodging division of the environmental health section at 828-287-6317 (Rutherford), 828-894-8004 (Polk), or 828-652-2921 (McDowell),  with any questions related to food safety.

Traditional Chicken Stock

-1/2 of chicken carcass

-2-3 ribs of celery broken in half or thirds

-2-3 carrots broken in half or thirds

-whole onion, quartered, with skin on (for color)

-2 garlic cloves, smashed

-generous salt

-generous pepper

-1-2 bay leaves

Take the bones and leftover meat and skin (the skin will add a deep color to the stock and can be omitted if desired) from a roasted chicken or a rotisserie chicken, and break apart. You will only need about a half a chicken carcass to make approx. 8 cups of stock. Freeze the remaining bones and meat for another time. Add bones and meat to a large stock pot, with celery, carrots, onion, garlic cloves, salt, pepper, bay leaf, and whatever other spices you might like. Add 10 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for 2-3 hours, tasting and occasionally skimming the fat from the top of the pot if necessary. Will yield about 8 cups of stock. When finished cooking, remove from heat, strain, use immediately for soups or stews, or cool and hold for seven days at 41 degrees or less.

Pressure Cooker Chicken Stock

Add all ingredients from above to pressure cooker, with 10 cups of water, place lid on cooker and seal, on high heat until pressure regulator begins to “speak”. Reduce heat to medium-low, (regulator should speak every few seconds) for about one hour. Remove from heat, strain, use immediately or cool. Will yield about 8 cups of stock.