10 Old Wives’ Tales that Need to Be Put Out to Pasture

Like it or not, many of the things our parents, grandparents, legal guardians and other “older folks” have told us over the years are mostly, if not completely, inaccurate. We may have gone on to accept or to go along with the teachings because of the trust and respect we had for our elders, but that does not erase the fact that what they have passed down from generation to generation has often been potentially harmful, even if we did not immediately realize it. Contrary to popular opinion, ignorance is rarely blissful, as the following 10 myths clearly illustrate:

“It’s OK to thaw frozen meats at room temperature.”

Any qualified food safety expert will tell you that this is dangerous nonsense. Meats begin to spoil the minute you take them out of appropriate cold or hot conditions. The only acceptable way to thaw meat is by putting it in the refrigerator after you take it out of the freezer (giving it enough time to thaw before cooking it). Another option is to microwave it. Under no circumstances should meat be left out for thawing at room temperature.

“Feeling a child’s (or adult’s) forehead is a pretty good way to determine if he or she has a fever.”

If your own hand happens to be cold at the time, the child’s forehead will actually seem abnormally warm. For this and other reasons, this is not a reliable way to gauge anyone’s body temperature. The only reliable way to test someone’s temperature is by using a thermometer.

“Pots, pans and cookie sheets can be properly washed in a dish washing machine.”

For the record, pots, pans, cookie sheets and other metal food containers need to be scrubbed using Brillo pads or other metal-based scrubbers. This is the only way to make sure all stuck-on or burned-on food particles are completely removed. Improperly cleaned cooking containers pose a health hazard.

“It’s OK to eat things you drop on the floor if you pick them up right away!”

No, Virginia, there is no “5-second rule” or any other such rule you can depend on. Whatever you drop on the floor will pick up, on contact, e-coli bacteria (dragged into the house on your shoes from the feces of dogs, birds and other animals), as well as millions of parasites, bacteria, viruses and chemicals of all kinds, including dangerous pesticides and lead-based contaminants.

“It’s OK to ignore people who say something is harmful. These so-called ‘experts’ can’t make up their minds, so, as a general rule, we should ignore them all!”

While it is true that experts will often disagree about whether something is harmful, the reality is that there is usually at least some truth to every warning given to the public, especially if the warning comes from universities, consumer advocacy agencies, government agencies and people with verifiable credentials in the field of public health or public safety. We know, for example, that artificial sweeteners, Teflon-coated cooking ware and carbonated sodas are bad for our health, and the fact that we cannot say so with 100 percent certainty is no reason to ignore published warnings.

“Regular hand washing while cooking (and before eating) is not necessarily that important.”

Probably because they never learned about the germ theory of disease, many older folks – an ignorance they have, unfortunately, passed on to their kids and grandkids – do not see the importance of washing their hands regularly when handling food. Where do you stand on this issue? If you are making a sandwich, do you wash your hands again if, while preparing the sandwich, the phone rings and you pick it up to answer it or if you go to open the door because the bell is ringing? You have to re-wash your hands if, in the process of handling foods, you re-contaminate your them for whatever reason – something many older folks don’t seem to understand. And, by the way, rinsing your hands (using only water) is not enough. You have to use bacteria-killing soap (rubbing your hands long enough to create suds), rinse with clean running water, and dry your hands using clean towels.

“It’s OK to answer every question of people who wear a fancy ID and claim to work for the government or a legitimate business.”

Because they are so trusting and generous with otherwise private information, older folks are often the target of identity thieves. For the record, you should not answer any question until and unless you confirm (by calling local authorities or the head office of a company) the person’s identity. Even then, be as stingy as you can with your personal information – a concept that is difficult for some older folks to abide by or accept, perhaps because they are often (out of loneliness) willing to socialize with total strangers.

“Every single time, doctors know what is best for us and we should always do exactly what they say.”

After a while, older folks seem to develop complete dependence on their healthcare professionals. While we should take seriously what doctors have to say, we also need to make up our own minds, sometimes by getting second opinions and by doing some research of our own. Doctors sometimes give incorrect or conflicting advice. For this reason, we need to look at all our options before making any decision.

“Put oil or butter on a burn . . . it’ll make you feel better!”

It sort of made sense to me when my Mum used to tell me that. After all, oil and butter are soft, soothing substances, right? Well, after you understand what a “burn” is (excited particles colliding against each other), you realize that all butter and oil do is trap heat inside the burn. They may give you some relief at first but actually create more cellular damage than is necessary in most instances.

“The truth is always best!”

If the police are accusing you of something, the worst thing you can do is give them a statement before you talk to an attorney. You may be telling the truth, but if the police have “evidence” (perhaps hinging on the false testimony of someone with something against you or on a case of mistaken identity) that contradicts what you say, then the “truth” can easily become a rope around your neck. Yes, you should be honest, but you should also be discreet, cautious and realistic.