Food poisoning fears and the truth about mayonnaise

May 11, 2009


It’s almost summer here in Toronto which means it’s time to revisit warm weather food safety topics such as how to use an instant-read thermometer and how to prevent killing a backyard full of people with one bowl of mayonnaise-cloaked potato salad.

I asked my super clever colleague Amy Snider about the dangers of mayonnaise and, as usual, she taught me something interesting:

“People often assume that it’s the mayonnaise in summer salads that causes food-borne illnesses. However, the true culprits are the protein-based ingredients (such as eggs, tuna, chicken, shrimp, even pasta or cooked vegetables).

Although commercial mayo actually contains enough acid to deter bacterial growth, it encourages foods to cling to one another. The close proximity of the ingredients in these salads can cause any bacteria present to grow and spread throughout the dish quickly. That’s why it’s important to keep all foods going into a mixed salad chilled from shopping to preparation, storage and serving.”

As the cliché goes: Food for thought!

Do you avoid mayonnaise in the summer because of fears of food poisoning?

If not and you’re looking for a new way to enjoy mayo safely in a yummy main course salad, try this recipe inspired by a bacon, tomato & lettuce sandwich that I adapted from a recipe in my last book, Dana’s Top Ten Table:

BLT salad recipe

2 lb (500 g) boneless, skinless chicken breasts,
1/2 cup (125 mL) barbecue sauce
12 slices of bacon
1/4 cup (50 mL) homemade or bought real mayonnaise
2 tbsp (30 mL) milk
1 tbsp (15 mL) very finely chopped fresh chives or green onions
torn Romaine or leafy green lettuce
Sliced grape or other tomatoes

Preheat the grill to medium. Cut the chicken breast into about 32, 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes and toss with the barbecue sauce. Chop each slice of bacon into thirds. Wrap each cube of chicken in a piece of bacon. Thread four bacon-wrapped pieces of chicken onto each skewer.

Lightly grease the grate. Grill the chicken skewers, turning as needed, for 12 to 15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the bacon is crisp.

Place skewers over a bed of lettuce and tomatoes and drizzle with mayonnaise mixture.

Makes 4 servings.

Put your food poisoning knowledge to the test with a quiz: test your food safety smarts.