Dr. Richard Besser Discusses Health Myths

We talk to a famous doctor about so-called health myths. INSIDE EDITION has the scoop.

ABC Chief Medical Editor Doctor Richard Besser discusses popular health myths in his new book Tell Me the Truth, Doctor.

You're supposed to rinse chicken before cooking it to get rid of harmful germs, right? Well, it turns out, that's just a myth!

“In doing so, it's going to spray stuff all over your kitchen. Cooking it to 165 degrees is going to kill all those germs,” explains Besser.  

Salad in a bag is increasingly popular, and many people still think to wash it before putting it in their salad bowl.

“All you have to do is open the salad and dump it in, and the reason for that is it says ‘prewashed,’” he said. “You're just as likely, when you're washing it in your sink in a colander, to add germs to it that are in your kitchen than you are to make it any safer.”  

The name “antibacterial soap” alone suggests that it will get our hands cleaner than regular soap.

"Actually, it doesn't," claims Besser. “You soap up real well for 20 seconds, wash it off. It's that lather that's removing all the germs. Antibacterial just exposes you to chemicals that you don't need.”

And what about zero-calorie diet soda that so many of us consume every day? Can it cause weight gain?

"Diet soda is sweeter than regular soda, and it can kind of reset your brain to expect or really crave very sweet things."

The wide selection of bottled water is vast, but is the water better for you than tap water?

"The government oversight is stronger on tap water than it is on what the bottle manufacturers do," said Besser. He chooses tap water.

And taking vitamins is considered an essential part of a healthy diet.

“I would recommend save the money on the vitamins and buy some more fruit,” said Besser. “A healthy diet is better.”

Finally, people always wonder if cell phones can cause brain cancer.

"The science says no; it's a different type of radiation than the radiation that causes brain cancer," said the doctor. "But you can protect yourself. Instead of holding it up to your ear, use the speaker, or use a handsfree device, or, like my kids, talk on the phone by texting."

In a statement, the American Cleaning Institute says the chemicals in antibacterial soap are safe, adding many hospitals and restaurants use it because it's so effective. The American Beverage Association says studies show diet soda can help you lose weight, and the International Bottled Water Association says bottled water is regulated the same as tap water.

In addition to the above statements, we received the following information from:

The International Bottled Water Association:

FDA Regulation of Bottled Water

·         Bottled water is comprehensively regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a packaged food product and it provides a consistently safe and reliable source of drinking water.  By federal law, the FDA regulations governing the safety and quality of bottled water must be at least as stringent as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations that govern tap water.  And, in some very important cases like lead, coliform bacteria, and E. coli, bottled water regulations are substantially more stringent.

Bottled Water Safety and Standards of Quality

·         Regarding the quality and safety of bottled water, all bottled water products - whether from groundwater or public water sources - are produced utilizing a multi-barrier approach.  From source to finished product, a multi-barrier approach helps prevent possible harmful contamination to the finished product as well as storage, production, and transportation equipment. Many of the steps in a multi-barrier system are effective in safeguarding bottled water from microbiological and other contamination. Measures in a multi-barrier approach may include one or more of the following: source protection, source monitoring, reverse osmosis, distillation, micro-filtration, carbon filtration, ozonation, and ultraviolet (UV) light.

·         Further, bottled water is one of the few food products that FDA also subjects to two sets of requirements in addition to the general food Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) -- one prescribing bottled water Good Manufacturing Practices, and the other imposing specific bottled water standards of identity and quality.  FDA's GMPs for bottled water apply to every aspect of production, from source protection, all the way through processing, to finished water sampling for purity prior to final bottling.  FDA has established standards for more than 90 substances pursuant to the Standard of Quality (SOQ) for bottled water.  Most FDA bottled water quality standards are the same as EPA’s maximum contaminant levels (MCL) for public water systems.  The few differences are usually the result of the substance not being found in bottled water or the substance is regulated under FDA food additives program.

·         Over and above FDA's fully protective requirements, IBWA's Code of Practice provides detailed specifications for plant construction and design, sanitary facilities, equipment, process controls and operations, and personnel qualifications.  

·         Consumers who choose to drink bottled water can rely on its consistent record of safety and quality.  A 2009 survey of bottled water regulatory authorities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), found there were zero outbreaks of foodborne illness from bottled water over a 5-year period.  Moreover, in testimony before the U.S. Congress in 2009, the FDA stated that the agency was aware of no major outbreaks of illness or serious safety concerns associated with bottled water in the past decade.

·         In contrast, EPA researchers estimate that 16.4 million cases of acute gastrointestinal illness (vomiting and diarrhea) per year are caused by tap water year (Messner M., et al., Journal of Water and Health, 2006; 4(Suppl 2):201-40).  

FDA Regulation of Interstate/Intrastate Commerce

·         FDA's jurisdiction over bottled water products (and any other product regulated by FDA) extends not only to those products that move in interstate commerce but also to those products sold within a single state that are enclosed in packaging materials that have moved in interstate commerce.

·         Known as the component theory of FDA jurisdiction, courts have long held that if any component of a food product moves in interstate commerce, FDA has jurisdiction over the finished product, regardless of whether the finished product itself moves in interstate commerce.  In the case of bottled water, if the plastic used in the bottles, the plastic used in the caps, the paper and ink used on the labels, any other outer packaging materials, and even the water itself comes from out of state, then FDA has jurisdiction over that product.  And in today's commercial society, that will almost always be the case. Congress has recognized this fact by enacting a law that expressly presumes that all food and beverage products are sold in interstate commerce. (21 U.S.C. § 379 (a))

The American Beverage Association:

“Diet beverages can be a useful weight management tool, a position supported by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In fact, a study published earlier this year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also confirms that diet beverages can be an important tool in helping reduce calories and directly counters the illogical assertion that drinking diet beverages causes people to eat more or to want sweet foods and beverages.”

The American Cleaning Institute:

Here is some information we have on antibacterial products on a website we support, FightGermsNow.com:


How do antibacterial products work?

Antibacterial products include hand soaps, hand sanitizers and hand wipes. Antibacterial products contain a special ingredient to kill or control the growth of germs. When washing with an antibacterial soap or wiping with antibacterial wipes, more than 99% of the germs that have been picked up on the hands are typically eliminated. In contrast, washing with plain soap initially removes fewer germs through friction, but the germs left on the hands can quickly regrow, increase in number and spread from person to person.

What kinds of germs do antibacterial products kill?

Antibacterial products kill or inhibit bacteria that cause skin infections, food poisoning, intestinal illnesses and other commonly transmitted diseases, such as E. coli, Staphylococci, Salmonella, etc. Their effectiveness can depend on the antibacterial ingredient concentration, the product formulation and its contact time on the skin. It is also important to follow the product label directions.

How do I know antibacterial products work?

Antibacterial products are categorized as over-the-counter (OTC) drugs by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and they are regulated in accordance with the provisions of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA).  This requires that they demonstrate their safety and effectiveness.

Scientists use standard approved clinical and laboratory tests to evaluate the effectiveness of antibacterial soaps.

Antibacterial hand washes have been shown to reduce the numbers of germs on the skin to a greater extent than washing with plain soap.  The use of antibacterial hand wash products to control infections in both home and healthcare settings has been documented in scientific journals. Antibacterial wipes are similarly required to have data to demonstrate they are effective against killing common germs.

Laboratory Tests

Laboratory tests measure the ability of the antibacterial ingredient, alone or in a formulated product, to kill a wide variety of microorganisms. In a typical test, millions of microorganisms are exposed to the test sample for a period of time, after which the reaction is stopped and the number of surviving organisms determined. Effectiveness is measured by the number of organisms killed.  Only products demonstrating improved effectiveness in reducing bacteria due to an antibacterial action are put into the marketplace with an antibacterial claim.

Clinical Tests

Controlled studies are also conducted that simulate various handwashing experiences. Studies indicate that the average level of germs left on skin after use of an antibacterial soap is significantly lower than when washing with plain soap.

Who currently uses them?

Consumers looking for additional protection before preparing and eating meals, after using the bathroom or diapering a child, after playing with a pet or when caring for the sick may want to use an antibacterial soap.   
Because of the extra protection that antibacterial products provide, many restaurants and hospitals require their employees to wash with antibacterial soap.
Consumers looking for convenience as well as protection use hand wipes and sanitizers.

Additionally, here is a link to a past ACI news release that summarizes research that shows that handwashing with antibacterial soap produces statistically greater reductions in bacteria on the skin when compared to using non-antibacterial soap.