July 12, 2010 § Leave a Comment
My husband’s parents and his Aunt Beth and Uncle Joe visited this weekend. We had a lovely time, but during one of our conversations I was thrown for a loop by some stories about onions. I can’t even remember what the conversation was about, but at some point Aunt Beth mentioned that a previously cut raw onion should never be eaten raw again, even if it has been refrigerated. She said that once an onion has been cut, bacteria is immediately drawn to it and, therefore, it becomes contaminated.
She then went on to say that her sister-in-law used to put half an onion in a sock and hold it to her child’s infected ear to draw out the bacteria that’s causing the infection.
What? I have never in my life heard these onion tales! And I went to an esteemed holistic nutrition school!
(Of course, while we’re talking we’re eating a tomato and cucumber salad that contains, yep, a leftover raw onion. I didn’t know! Thankfully, we all survived.)
Another bomb she dropped is that it’s not the mayonnaise in potato salad, for instance, that goes rancid and can cause food poisoning. No, no. It’s the cut raw onions that are sitting in there just sucking bacteria out of the air like little onion-y Hoovers waiting for an unsuspecting picnic-er to eat a big bowl of salad and proceed to get violently ill. What?! Evil onions!
So, the next day we’re at my friend’s son’s 2nd birthday party and I re-tell the onion tales to find out if anyone has heard of them and my friend Carla said that she hadn’t heard those particular tales, BUT she did hear that if you put a cut raw onion in your basement it will absorb nasty basement-y odors. So she did it. And it worked! What?!
Feeling baffled, I looked on snopes.com and urbanlegends.about.com (they’re credible sources, right?) and found that the tales are partially true. Store-bought mayo, if bought at room temperature, is probably safe, so it’s likely that some other item in the salad (onion, potato, celery?) became contaminated and caused food poisoning.
However, there’s no scientific evidence of cut raw onions being “bacteria magnets” and, in fact, with onions being so acidic, one would think that bacteria wouldn’t much like to hang out on one. Like any food item, they can become contaminated if not handled properly. Like if one is cut with a dirty knife on a dirty cutting board. Duh.
(Green onions, or scallions (“skullyuns,” if you’re from PA ), however, have been linked to E. coli contamination since they are not peeled. So, you are taking a chance any time you eat a green onion.)
After reading the snopes and urban legends posts and some of the articles they linked to, I don’t believe that onions are “bacteria magnets” or “onion-y Hoovers.” However, I can’t help but be intrigued by the old wives’ tales about laying cut onions in sick rooms–a story Aunt Beth’s sister-in-law must have heard. While the scientific evidence isn’t there to support it, it is nevertheless interesting. Maybe the onions release something into the air rather than attract things from the air? I have no idea, but I don’t easily dismiss old wives’ tales. Slap my ass and call me silly, but they’ve been passed down from generation to generation for a reason, right?
The next virus or flu that dares cross my threshold will be greeted with a plateful of sliced raw onions in each room of our house. Bring it, suckas!
(Just kidding, please stay away.)