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Prairie Fare: Mayo Has Had a Bum Rap

Julie says mayonnaise does not make a great hair conditioner.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

Poor mayonnaise. It's been falsely applauded for some things and falsely accused of others. Let's set the record straight.

Myth No. 1: Mayo makes a great hair conditioner.

When I was a teen, my friends talked about mayonnaise as a way to get luxurious, shiny hair. I'm not talking about eating mayonnaise. You were supposed to massage it into your hair.

I guess it made sense at the time. Mayonnaise contains protein and oil, similar to more expensive hair treatments.

So, I rubbed mayo all over my long hair and wrapped plastic wrap around my head. Then I sat and waited. About an hour later, I attempted to rinse it out.

I shampooed my hair several times. When my hair finally dried, it hung like strings of long spaghetti, and the aroma of mayonnaise lingered. I was a walking pasta salad.

Lesson 1: Use commercial hair conditioner and leave the mayo for salads and dips.

Myth No. 2: Mayo causes foodborne illness.

This idea has some basis in history, but doesn't make the cut from a scientific viewpoint. Years ago, people made mayonnaise from scratch. Fresh, raw eggs were the vital ingredient that held the emulsion of oil and vinegar together.

Since homemade mayo contains raw eggs, there probably were lots of cases of "food poisoning" or, more specifically, salmonellosis linked to mayo. Its reputation stuck.

After examining 50 years of research, the Association for Dressings and Sauces concluded that commercial mayonnaise is not to blame for foodborne illness. Commercial mayonnaise contains pasteurized eggs; the mild heat treatment kills bacteria.

Commercial mayonnaise also contains an acid, such as lemon juice or vinegar, and other ingredients, such as salt, that kill some types of bacteria and depress the growth of other types of bacteria. It usually contains added preservatives to extend its shelf life, too. After opening, refrigerated mayonnaise has a shelf life of about two months.

While salads often are linked to foodborne illness outbreaks, unwashed hands, contaminated produce and cross-contamination more likely are the issue. Making a salad requires a lot of handling.

Take some precautions when using mayonnaise and other toppings. When spreading mayonnaise on your sandwich, be sure to start with a clean knife so you don't introduce contaminants into the jar.

Don't "double dip." Dipping your carrots or chips into the "community dip container" after taking a bite introduces bacteria, too. That's not too appetizing for your dining companions either.

Lesson No. 2: Prepare salads and dips with food safety in mind.

  • Start with well-washed hands. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. Count slowly or sing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." Twenty seconds is longer than you think.
  • Prechill your salad ingredients, including mayonnaise.
  • Try a food service tip: prechill your bowls and utensils.
  • Wash fresh produce with plenty of running water. Don't use soap on fresh produce because it can leave residues that could cause stomach upset or worse.
  • Avoid cross-contamination. Keep raw meat separate from ready-to-eat foods, such as salad ingredients.
  • Serve salads in bowls nested in ice-filled containers.

Here's a summer salad recipe from the University of Wisconsin Extension Service.

Any Day's a Picnic Chicken Salad

2 1/2 c. cooked, diced chicken breast (such as grilled)

1/2 c. chopped celery

1/4 c. chopped onion

2 Tbsp. pickle relish

1/2 c. light mayonnaise

Combine all ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Use within two days. You can use this to make chicken sandwiches, make a pasta salad by mixing with two cups of cooked pasta or serve in hollowed-out tomatoes or cucumbers.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 160 calories, 8 grams (g) of fat, 4 g of carbohydrate and 220 milligrams of sodium.


NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu
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